Spanning the globe for winning flavor formulas

by Jeff Gelski
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The old ABC show "Wide World of Sports" every week proclaimed it was "spanning the globe" to bring its viewers unusual sporting events. Flavor ingredient suppliers may relate to that task. Instead of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, they seek to bring their customers the excitement of pepper combinations and the delicious surprise of new fruit flavors.

Ingredient suppliers are delving into the potential for Thai flavors, finding ways to target vanilla flavors to specific markets and tapping into a database of hundreds of fruit flavors.

New flavors may translate into new products designed for both the young and the old, said Judson McLester, corporate chef and manager of culinary R.&D. for Wixon, Inc., St. Francis, Wis.

"The latest data indicate that the younger the population, the more apt they are to try and purchase ethnic cuisine," he said. "But, baby boomers are courageous when trying new flavors. They are well-traveled and are more educated about these flavors. Ethnic groups tend to want a more traditional flavor profile that reminds them of home."

The balance of Thai flavors

Ethnic flavors may become more specific.

"Just as Italian and Chinese food has been refined into regionally-specific dishes, it’s likely that in the future, Southeast Asian cuisine will become less monolithic, as travel and immigration patterns familiarize diners with the cuisines of Cambodia, Burma and Indonesia as well as Thailand," said Liz Olson, sous chef for Gilroy Foods and Flavors, Omaha.

Gilroy Foods and Flavors, a division of ConAgra Foods, has focused on Thai flavors in the initial FoodCast report from ConAgra Food Ingredients. FoodCast will come out each quarter of the year and feature proprietary intelligence on culinary, health and product development trends.

The initial FoodCast reports Thai cuisine is moving onto grocery store shelves after finding a place on restaurant menus. According to the Mintel Global New Products Database, the grocery sector saw 534 Thai-inspired new products in 2007.

Thai cuisine involves blending salty, spicy, sweet and savory into countless combinations, Ms. Olson said. The flavor combinations may be used in such categories as pizza, one-dish meals, snack foods, soups, salads and dressings and condiments. Restaurant chains such as P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and The Cheesecake Factory are introducing Thai flavors to American consumers.

Thai flavors may have a place in the health and wellness trend. According to FoodCast, "A creative deployment of herbs, seasonings and staples like fish paste, galangal, chiles and coconut sets the Thai tone and amps up the excitement so convincingly that you don’t miss the butter or cream."

But food formulators need to exercise caution when working with chiles in Thai flavors.

"The chiles used in Thai food can be too hot for even the most adventurous Western palates, so it’s essential to accurately gauge the tolerance of the target consumer for spiciness," Ms. Olson said. "Ingredients such as fish sauce should be used with a light hand — it lends to a note of authenticity but can overwhelm a dish if used too generously.

"A good approach is to add Thai flavors to a dish that consumers are already comfortable with, like noodles or chicken salad."

Distinctive vanilla flavors

American consumers no doubt are familiar with vanilla. Givaudan Flavors, Vernier, Switzerland, wants to provide more options when working with that flavor through its TasteEssentials vanilla program. Consumer and market research efforts involved more than 4,000 consumers, 20 countries and 75 of the world’s most popular vanilla ice creams. The research led to the creation of 500 vanilla concepts, and 150 of them were tested with consumers.

"The launch of Givaudan’s Vanilla TasteEssentials program marks a significant breakthrough in discovering how consumers in different parts of the world enjoy, think and feel about vanilla," said Scott May, global head of Givaudan’s sweet goods and dairy division.

Dave Bratton, a Givaudan flavorist, added, "Our aim was to push the boundaries of vanilla flavors. Seeing the consumers’ reaction to our prototypes made us realize that the universe of what is acceptable and indeed desirable for vanilla is far larger than we had previously thought."

Adding fruit flavor options

Blue Pacific Flavors & Fragrances, City of Industry, Calif., wants to increase options for fruit flavors through its licensing deal with HortResearch, a commercially focused research institute wholly owned by the government of New Zealand.

Blue Pacific gained access to HortResearch’s database of volatiles and aromas produced by fruits around the world. The database contains about 1,000 analyses on volatile compound mixtures. The two companies plan to launch a proprietary fruit flavor technology co-branded hortRealfruit.

Symrise, Teterboro, N.J., recently emphasized citrus flavors. Its new Global Citrus Center in Sorocaba, Brazil, serves as the hub for Naturally Citrus!, a new business platform.

Exotic fruit purees from the Brazilian rainforest may be used in beverages, smoothies, ice cream, sorbets and desserts, according to iTi Tropicals, Lawrenceville, N.J. Featured flavors from the company include acerola, cocoa fruit, camu camu, cashew, acai, caja, cupuacu and umbu.

Flavors from superfruits such as pomegranate, acai and yum berry are showing up in beverages, Mr. McLester of Wixon said.

Such flavors may work in combinations, he added. For example, he said Baharat seasoning and pomegranate may go together. Baharat seasoning involves such ingredients as black pepper, coriander, cassia, clove, cumin, cardamom, nutmeg and paprika. The combination of the seasoning and pomegranate flavor could work in applications for carbonated beverages, desserts and in a marinade for poultry, he said.

Emerging flavors may find a home in just about any food or beverage category, Mr. McLester said.

"It all depends on how creative you want to be," he said.

Sweet and heat flavors spice up I.F.T.

NEW ORLEANS — Since the event was held in a city where chefs know how to spice up foods, ingredient suppliers at the Institute of Food Technologists’ Annual Meeting and Food Expo in New Orleans turned up the heat for flavors in product prototypes offered at their exhibition booths June 29 to July 1. One theme was "sweet and heat," or products featuring both a sweet flavor and a hot flavor:

Chipotle chocolate-flavored milk: Cargill, Minneapolis, featured this beverage, which included Gerkens lightly alkalized cocoa from Ghana, natural chocolate, chipotle, capsacium and salt.

Chipotle brownie: Visitors to the booth of Culinary Farms, Inc., Woodland, Calif., dared to bite into this baked treat.

Vanilla coconut shrimp with chili maple: Kerry Inc., Beloit, Wis., offered the sweet taste of coconut and the heat of chili.

Tabasco-spiced carrot cake ice cream: The item featured the McIllheny & Co. Tabasco brand.

Cajun turducken with a sweet potato crawfish spread on a hush puppy pancake: Judson McLester, corporate chef and manager of culinary R.&D. for Wixon Inc., St. Francis, Wis., whipped up this dish. Turducken is a combination of turkey, duck and chicken. Other Mr. McLester creations at the Wixon booth included roasted chicory and cocoa rub steak and turkey breakfast sausage wrapped in a maple-flavored pancake with Cajun strawberries and cream.

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