Flavor trends on the horizon

by Karen Weisberg
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This Laotian Chicken Larb features a dry version of a wet dressing that includes lemon grass, ginger, garlic, lime, cilantro and mint, plus fish sauce.

KANSAS CITY — There was a time when forecasting trends three to five years out, food and beverage manufacturers looked closely at what was emerging in fine dining, ethnic and independent restaurants. Today, trends with staying power may be coming to the mainstream via food trucks said Gary Patterson, C.E.C., F.M.P., executive chef manager for culinary development for McCormick & Company, Inc., Sparks, Md.

“Just look at Austin and Portland with what seems like thousands of food trucks offering a ton of great stuff,” he said.

Forecasting is an art and a science, and chef Andrew Hunter, food service and industrial chef for Kikkoman Sales USA, Inc., South San Francisco, Calif., is enjoying the paradigm shift “to a fast-paced, bottom-up consumer-driven model using social media tools to express their opinions.”

Dismissing the stunts that are typically here today, gone tomorrow, Mr. Hunter is focused on the trends that show evidence of ongoing popularity.

“As a trend’s nova-like quality begins to fade, it becomes woven into mainstream eating habits, cravings and lifestyles, thus creating and sustaining long term revenue streams.”

In forecasting trends in sauces, marinades and condiments – the ingredients that bring an overarching flavorful experience to the consumer’s palate – Mr. Hunter emphasized the impact a relatively small flavor house may have in introducing a product that becomes iconic.

“Some of the smaller companies are the ones with a less sophisticated H.A.C.C.P. plan so they’re often able to produce sauces with fresher, fruitier notes. Huey Fong Foods, Inc., with its successful sriracha sauce, is the perfect example, he said.

The Specialty Food Association has included sriracha among its top five food trends in 2015.

Sriracha shines

“They don’t pasteurize, so their food safety is dependent upon a high acidity; with a pH below 3.5 you can take more chances and achieve the wonderful fruity/chili notes,” Mr. Hunter said. “It really is the gold standard for sriracha; what Kikkoman and others are offering are sriracha sauces for high volume.”

With lower volume needs, smaller companies “have the ability to be more nimble and do smaller production runs allowing them to be market leaders in trends and innovative flavor profiles,” Mr. Hunter said.

The Specialty Food Association has included sriracha among its top five food trends in 2015. Currently, Taco Bell is testing approximately five menu items that include sriracha in about 70 of its Kansas City area restaurants.

The chain believes such items are bound to appeal to its core market of 18- to 34-year-old males who pride themselves on the amount of heat they can stand.

In terms of specific flavor trends, there are a half-dozen “buckets” that Mr. Hunter and Kikkoman believe are important. Standing out from all buckets or lists he cited Latin and/or Asian, such as a caramelized pineapple sriracha. It sounds like a signature item straight from Roy Choi’s Kogi (Korean) BBQ Taco Food Trucks plying the streets of Los Angeles.

“In fact, Roy is one of my business partners in another venture – and Kikkoman has commercialized one of Roy’s sauces; he’s a great example of ‘smashing’ Asian and Latin flavor profiles,” Mr. Hunter said.

Ethnic inspiration

As one of the industry’s leading manufacturers providing seasonings, spices and other ingredients for more than seven decades, Fuchs North America, with headquarters in Owings Mills, Md., keeps a close watch on the latest trends and listens attentively to its customers. For corporate chef Howard Cantor, the research and development focus is heavily on creating ethnic flavor profiles, especially those inspired by the national dishes of various Asian countries. Currently, inspiration is being drawn from Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Goa, Pakistan and India.

“We’ve taken the iconic national dishes, such as Chicken Larb from Laos or Nuoc Cham from Vietnam (a dipping sauce for noodles, fish rolls, etc.), and reverse engineered it to make a dry version to toss with vegetables to make a salad,” Mr. Cantor said.

For the Laotian Chicken Larb, he created a dry version of the wet dressing that includes lemon grass, ginger, garlic, lime, cilantro and mint, plus fish sauce.

“They (the consumer) finely mince the cooked chicken, add some moisture to our dry seasoning, toss the chicken with this dressing then fold it into a lettuce wrap for a light, healthy meal,” he said.

Mr. Cantor and his staff develop three or four kits annually. At press time they were finishing the second edition of the company’s Ethnic Exploration Kit, a series of seasoning blends for topical application as well as sauces and dressings.

“It takes a lot of R.&D., writing recipe cards, etc., for each kit,” he said. “We actually get the most buzz from a regional, specific ethnicity focus.”

Mr. Cantor and his staff are also developing a dry seasoning for roasted pork shoulder. One of his goals this year is “to work with poultry, meat and seafood companies to show what you can do with topical seasonings,” he said.

Harissa’s time may have come

Fuchs introduced its harissa, a hot chili paste, several years ago when Mediterranean cuisine was coming into its own.

“Now, it’s working its way through the supply chain and showing up in restaurants,” Mr. Cantor said. “We were too far ahead of the curve, so now we’re [again] showing our very good harissa blend.”

The blend may be combined with yogurt, used as a meat marinade, as a roast lamb marinade, in a tagine or as a finishing dip to go with naan or to season rice.

“It’s big and bold, with a smokiness to it, with smoked chilies, paprika, roasted cumin and roasted coriander, salt plus a lot of peppercorns,” Mr. Cantor said.

The publicity sriracha sauce has generated during the past few years doesn’t faze Trip Kadey, director of culinary for The French’s Food Company, Chester, N.J. The popularity of sriracha itself actually creates opportunity for others in the marketplace.

“Even three or four years ago, I heard Dr. Tim Ryan speak at the World of Flavor conference at the C.I.A. (Culinary Institute of America) and point out that flavor trends would be predominately Asian, Hispanic and Italian,” Mr. Kadey said. “We saw sriracha come on the scene and now all the big companies are doing it. Ours – under the Frank’s Red Hot Label – is hot and spicy; you taste the cayenne and jalapeno. It’s flavor first and then heat.”

Riffing on “something sweet,” Mr. Kadey and his team have formulated a new Asian sweet ginger sauce that has been introduced in Canada at retail. Boasting a tomato base with jalapeno, plus vinegar, red peppers, garlic, citrus and ginger, it complements beef, chicken, pork and seafood, as well as vegetables.

“Here in the U.S., we’ve launched it in food service along with our sriracha sauce.”

Mr. Kadey finds the Asian sweet ginger sauce is popular tossed with canned diced fire-roasted tomatoes plus a bit of fresh mint cilantro.

“It’s a wonderful sauce with beef, steak, with a smoked brisket panini, or on a burger,” he said. “Again, it’s flavor first, then heat.”

Ancho chili, with its somewhat leathery, more tobacco notes, brings a bit of heat -- but not over-the-top heat.

Still more chili

When McCormick & Co. is gathering information for its annual Flavor Forecast, the company’s global culinary development team is consulted. Based on what he’s heard, Mr. Patterson said the chili “obsession” appears to be continuing.

“It’s now branched out to aji amarillo, Szechuan, etc.,” he said. There are hundreds of thousands of chili peppers and they’re all becoming more readily available.”

Today, ancho chili is part of McCormick’s “gourmet” line, while a chipotle cinnamon seasoning is being used in formulations.

“Smoked paprika – smoked 24 hours with oak, so it’s warm and approachable – has a sweet smoky dimension,” Mr. Patterson said.

He finds it’s an ideal seasoning in Hungarian goulash or added to a blend of seasoning for a bit of smoked flavor when cooking low and slow.

Ancho chili, with its somewhat leathery, more tobacco notes, brings a bit of heat but it’s not over-the-top heat. Mr. Patterson said it just may stem the desire for salt.

“In preparing a chili, use ancho plus your dark chili powder for flavor layering to balance out flavor; it creates an explosion in your mouth but removes some of that desire for salt,” he said.
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