Flavor trends: Bold, bright and better-for-you
More adventurous consumers mean more experimentation for confectioners, flavor technologists.
March 14, 2018
For the past decade, quietly, subtly but persistently, Americans have become more and more adventurous in their eating habits, be it embracing Korean BBQ, slurping up Asian noodle dishes, discovering Indian curried specialties or reaching deep into regional Mexican cuisines.
In doing so, the ﬂavors at disposal to confectioners and candy technologists have become bolder, brighter and even better-for-you. That doesn’t mean the standby favorites — such as chocolate, caramel, strawberry and vanilla — have disappeared.
So what’s driving this exploration and explosion in the ﬂavors world? Is it the Millennial generation, weaned on a brave new world of interconnectivity via the Web? Is it driven by ageing Baby Boomers’ travel lust and ongoing pursuit of premium products? Has the culinary world simply expanded its horizons beyond the traditional basics of French, Italian and Chinese cuisines?
Yes to all of the above. Consider Synergy Flavors’ forecast of the hot new ﬂavors of 2018:
- Burnt caramel: According to Mintel, Millennials are interested in different proﬁles, ethnic infusions and the inferred ﬂavors that are imparted by using speciﬁc preparation techniques like caramelization, burning or browning. A burnt caramel ﬂavor pairs the sweet, milky notes of the caramel with the deep and slightly smoky characteristics of burning the caramel. This ﬂavor creation process allows consumers to distinguish the burnt and caramel ﬂavors while enjoying one ﬁnished product that combines the best of both.
- Blood orange: Blood orange appeals to consumers by tapping into their growing demand for naturally grown and better-for-you ingredients. Besides the provocative and enticing name, consumers also enjoy how juicy and ﬂavorful blood orange is as compared to the more common Valencia orange ﬂavor.
- Elderﬂower: Floral ﬂavor use in food and beverage applications has grown 88 percent over the past year, as reported by Mintel. One of these increasingly popular ﬂoral ﬂavors is elderﬂower. Unlike some other ﬂoral ﬂavors that can be overwhelming, elderﬂower’s sweet, subtle proﬁle allows consumers to enjoy it as a standalone ﬂavor. Synergy expects to see increased demand for elderﬂower ﬂavoring, especially in baked goods and other sweets.
“In the past, we’ve seen these ﬂavors used as toppings for desserts or as part of a combination of ingredients in liqueurs, but we believe 2018 will be the year that these ﬂavors will be seen widely on restaurant menus, on grocery store shelves and at cocktail bars as standalone ﬂavors,” says Greg Kaminski, executive research chef at Synergy Flavors.
“2018 will be an exciting year for exploring new and different ﬂavors in a vast array of food and beverage applications, driven by consumer demand and continued effort on the part of industry food scientists, artisans and manufacturers to strive for new and creative options,” he adds.
Bell Flavors & Fragrances’ (BF&F) annual Spark trends provide a bit broader view of what we can expect this year:
- Touched by the Mediterranean takes us on a journey around the Mediterranean Sea as we hug the Northern coast, ﬁlled with an abundance of fresh seafood, and learn the various citruses, crafted-liquors, cheeses and seasonings reigning from this region.
- Healthy-ish explores what’s nutritionally good and making it (actually) fun to eat by exploring those healthier alternatives and ﬂavor enhancers that create well-balanced and tasty dishes but also make food selection decisions kind of “healthy-ish.”
- Longitude and Latitude imaginary lines across the globe create a grid of exploration and intrigue for many chefs with the need to learn about new ingredients and ﬂavors.
- Outdoor Social features foods and beverages that can and should be enjoyed everywhere, and it seems like we all enjoy it just a smidgen more when that “place” is outside.
- A Wok Through the Provinces isn’t just about crab rangoons and fried rice - the world is ﬁnally discovering the robust culinary repertoire of China’s eight food regions and their palette-tickling diversity.
As the headline intimates, there’s no holding back when it comes to ﬂavors. But do these exotic excursions actually make it into confections? Perhaps not as quickly as they might in beverages, but there’s certainly more experimentation than ever.
“New ﬂavor ideas are led by the consumer or by chocolatiers simply being creative and conﬁdent with their skills,” says Paul Young, chocolatier and U.K. brand ambassador for California Prunes. “Anything goes right now, especially savory ingredients in chocolate, boiled sweets, fudges and toffees. For example, bacon fudge and chocolate, chocolate crisps/chips, and savory spice blends. Moroccan and Indian spices are especially popular due to their fragrant aromas and ﬂavor-blending characteristics.
“Alcohol is huge,” he adds. “But with a mixologist angle of transforming cocktails, craft beers and small-scale distillery spirits into exciting new chocolates and sweets. Herbs are still big business with some of the more forgotten varieties, such as hyssop, dandelion, angelica and traditional ﬂorals making a welcome return.”
Amongst all these wonderful ﬂavor concepts, however, there are also more down-to-earth concerns involving clean label and organic reformulations, price and availability ﬂuctuations, and sweetener alternatives.
Converting ﬂavor components from artiﬁcial ingredients to natural can be more expensive, says Jenna Schowalter, sweet applications manager for BF&F, particularly if it involves citrus.
“The citrus industry in Florida and California has seen frost, blight and drought, which translates into a volume decrease in fruits harvested,” she points out.
According to data sourced by the USDA and Citrus Industry.net and provided by Synergy Flavors, orange and grapefruit oil prices will remain at historic highs. Orange for processing tonnage has declined by 45 percent since the 2012/2013 years. The reductions are blamed on “greening disease,” which destroys fruit and trees. Of course, Hurricane Irma didn’t help, wiping out between 10 and 20 percent of the crop.
The same applies to the grapefruit crop — a 40 percent reduction in volume since 2012/2013 — and a 30 to 40 percent loss from Hurricane Irma. One bright note, lime oil prices should be stable while lemon oils might have a slight uptick.
Citrus sourcing issues aside, it’s just costlier to convert from artiﬁcial to natural ﬂavors, especially if a manufacturer wants the ﬂavor to be certiﬁed organic.
“The move toward organic components is driven by clean label,” says Amy Loomis, Synergy Flavors’ business development manager, food. “The perception is that you’re buying a better product.”
Consumers are looking for better-for-you, free-from labels — labels that have shorter ingredient lists, adds Parveen Werner, Synergy Flavors’ associate director of marketing.
That movement is also leading to alternatives to sugar on the label. Of course, it’s hard to replace the ultimate sweetener, which has both taste and functional characteristics. Hence, there’s an ongoing call for ﬂavors that can work with alternative sweeteners, particularly to mask any off-ﬂavor notes.
“We working quite a bit with our Sweetech technology, essentially sweetener enhancers,” Schowalter says. “Sweeteners such as stevia or monk fruit can have either bitter or metallic aftertaste, so we try to round out the proﬁle.”
Then there’s tweaking the proﬁle of favorite ﬂavors.
“Caramel remains a safe place to play,” she says, especially when you working with its cousin, butterscotch.
“Butterscotch is the new caramel,” Schowalter maintains. While checking out confectionery and ice cream shops in New York City, the sweet ﬂavors manager came across coconut ash butterscotch as well as miso butterscotch.
Another inﬂuence she sees making a splash in the sweets world is what Schowalter calls “outdoor social.”
“It’s shareable food, evoking ﬂavors from such food and beverages as churros, cotton candy, chocolate and vanilla malts, funnel cakes, root beer and sarsaparilla,” Schowalter says.
Varietal inﬂuences are also coming into play into old favorites, such as coffee, vanilla and cherries.
“You’re seeing cold brew, Vietnamese and Turkish coffee ﬂavors, as well as Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla, even Rainier cherries,” Schowalter says.
Loomis concurs with what she calls the “provenance-based” ﬂavor trend.
“The place of origin, besides adding a twist, connotes authenticity to consumers, particularly Millennials,” she says.
As mentioned earlier in the hot ﬂavor trends listing, burnt caramel reﬂects what Werner says are more earthy notes coming to the forefront, such as a “Smokey Road” ﬂavor, which is a Bourbon vanilla smoky proﬁle.
It’s where ﬂavor fusion comes into play, Young says.
“My experience using California prunes and prune-based products has been an exciting one, starting with the whole prune as it can be soaked in fragrant waters, alcohols, infusions and blended to create a smooth base for ganache and sweets,” he points out.
In this instance, there’s also functionality.
“Prune puree has a strong ability to keep a ﬁrm grasp on moisture keeping ganache, cakes and desserts super moist, stable and moisture stable,” Young explains. “Moisture stability in a chocolate trufﬂe is essential to provide the correct shelf life, texture and mouth feel.
He also uses prune puree along with prune concentrate (which is similar to molasses) to achieve long shelf life, rich smooth caramels without re-crystallization, and stable ganaches.
And when talking about fusion, it’s important to remember that opposites attract. Sweet and salty and sweet and spicy continue to star in playful confections.
Playful, or what Loomis calls fanciful or whimsical, has made a major splash in the confectionery world. Having seen the success that Jelly Belly’s Harry Potter line of outrageous ﬂavors has enjoyed, it’s not surprising magical is being translated into the ﬂavors universe.
Take for example, the unicorn phenomenon, a symbol that’s been parlayed into fashion, toys and food.
Starbucks broke the barrier with the introduction of the Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino, a blended crème made with a sweet dusting of pink powder that goes into a crème Frappuccino with mango syrup topped with a pleasantly sour blue drizzle. Of course, the color changes as you drink it – blue swirls into pink.
Working off that premise, Synergy Flavors chefs created Sugarplum. Sugarplum, which is one of the world’s oldest sugared candies using a sugaring technique typically used on nuts, provided a base for magical interpretation.
Starting with a “Gold Standard” dessert — plum tart in a berry crème anglaise — the company’s chef created what he thought a sugarplum ﬂavor should taste/look like. This Victorian-based sweet ﬂavor combines plumy, sweet berry taste notes with lavender and purplish tints.
Hence, a memory from bedtime stories is brought to life through ﬂavor fusion. And that’s the key principle driving ﬂavor trends today: experiences, be they imagined or remembered, exotic or familiar, evocative or electric, that delight and deliver.