Finding a flavor partner

by Jeff Gelski
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Pairings may add spice to snacks while fruit flavors may blend in juices.

Flavors are finding partners, but not on a romantic match-making web site. Food and beverage product developers are combining them in spicy, sweet and zesty ways. Sea salt is being paired with more than just caramel. Coconut water is providing multiple benefits in juice blends. Pumpkin, citrus and cinnamon are other potential partners in flavor formulations.

A trend called “blends with benefits,” which may involve herbs and spices, made the 2016 flavor forecast from McCormick & Co., Sparks, Md. For example, turmeric may be blended with cocoa, cinnamon and nutmeg to offer sweet flavor options. Ginger and citrus may balance matcha’s slightly bitter notes. Chia seed may become zesty when paired with citrus, chili and garlic, and combining Mediterranean herbs with flax seed may enhance savory dishes.

Sea salt has paired with caramel in recent years and may combine with ethnic spices as well.

“Ethnic spices are surging in popularity as global cuisines gain traction across consumer markets,” SaltWorks, Inc., Woodinville, Wash., said in an e-mail response to questions submitted by Food Business News. “While sriracha hot chili sauce has been the standard for many years (and is still very popular), there are plenty of other heat sources that may surge in popularity, from curry blends to hotter peppers that were once relegated to wicked hot sauces or rare seasoning blends, like habaneros, ghost peppers and even the Trinidad scorpion pepper.”

SaltWorks offers such ingredients as Fusion brand habanero heat sea salt, ghost pepper sea salt and Venom sea salt made with scorpion pepper. SaltWorks also offers such spicy salt varieties as Fusion sriracha sea salt, spicy curry sea salt and jalapeño sea salt.

“These salts can be finishing sea salts — think a sprinkle on tacos, the top of a chocolate truffle or on the rim of a jalapeño margarita glass — but they’re also excellent options for the creation of spicy snack mixes or prepared foods,” the company said.

Blending with coconut water

Coconut water may benefit juice flavor blends in various ways, said Don Giampetro, vice-president of Innovation and Quality, for iTi Tropicals, Lawrenceville, N.J.

“The explosion of the 100% coconut water market is one thing, but I think the blended fruit juice and blended application market, where you’re using coconut water as an ingredient, I think there’s still plenty of room to learn and also plenty of room to grow,” Mr. Giampetro said.

In juice blends, companies are turning to coconut water to increase the levels of juice in products, in some cases up to 100%, he said. Also, coconut water, naturally lower in sugar, may lower caloric loads in blends by 25% to 35%.

Passionfruit, a potential coconut water partner, may become more popular in North America in 2016, Mr. Giampetro said. Currently it is more popular in Europe where its flavor may make vitamin blend beverage applications more palatable.

Acerola, orange juice and passionfruit may be highly acidic, Mr. Giampetro said. Coconut water, which has a pH above 5, may ease the acidic taste when blended into such juices.

“Comparatively speaking to most other juices out there, coconut water is low acid,” he said.

When blending, formulators should recognize coconut water has a different taste than coconut cream.

“Coconut cream is a very complex product,” Mr. Giampetro said. “It has an appreciable amount of fat in it. There are other soluble solids in it as well. It’s rich. The flavor characteristic is very distinctive. Coconut water on the other hand is a completely different item. It doesn’t contain any fat.”

Coconut cream may add a specific/defining flavor in certain blends, such as a blend with grape flavor. Coconut water might be a better option.

“If you want to blend coconut water and grape, what should it taste like?” Mr. Giampetro asked. “It should taste like grape.”

The company deals with both coconut cream and coconut water.

“There is a fit for the coconut cream flavor, and we sell the coconut cream, but in the case of beverages and particularly juice-based beverages, I think you have to be really careful,” Mr. Giampetro said.

Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Ill., listed charred coconut, overripe melon, pandan, preserved cherry blossom, chamoy, honeyed evergreen, sassafras root and urfa chili as flavors to follow this year.

“The coconut has become as ubiquitous as the apple,” said Lauren Williams, marketing manager for beverage flavors in North America for Sensient Flavors. “Consumers love its tropical creamy sweetness. We have combined that with another flavor that is becoming a pillar of American cuisine — smoke. Not just smoke in fact. We’ve put the coconut much closer to the flame and let it roast there.”

Chamoy, a “mash-up” of flavors that combines the smoky heat of ancho chilies with apricot preserves, lime juice, salt and sugar, is another flavor combination that could prosper in 2016, Ms. Williams said.

Mushroom/truffle could be another flavor pairing. SaltWorks offers both Fusion white truffle and black truffle salts.

“White and black truffles are continuing to gain popularity as the truffle becomes more accessible in the form of truffle oil and truffle salts,” the company said.

“We are hearing about this trend from research firms, and we see it in new product launches,” Kim Holman, director of marketing for Wixon, Inc., St. Francis, Wis., said of mushroom/truffle pairings. “It provides nice savory notes and can replace meat in applications. Think of stuffed appetizer pastries with a mushroom or truffle filling.”

She added that pumpkin might become more popular, and not just in the fall.

“Pumpkin continues to be a major flavor trend as more manufacturers jump on seasonal products to drive incremental volume,” Ms. Holman said. “Research suggests that consumers are looking for seasonal flavor profiles, and many consumers actually want seasonal flavors all year round.

“Look for pumpkin to continue to evolve and start pairing with other flavor profiles. We have seen pumpkin and spice this year and expect to see pumpkin variations in 2016.”

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