New taste sensations

by Allison Sebolt
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With 21% of all "meals" being considered snacks and snacking predicted to grow in the years ahead, food manufacturers and food service operators are considering how to expand flavor through snacking, according to the NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y.

Snacking in the morning is on the rise as snack foods are replacing breakfast more than other meals, according to Gilroy Foods and Flavors, a portfolio of food ingredient brands of ConAgra Foods, Inc., Omaha. In addition, after-school snacking is still prime for classics such as pizza rolls and bagel bites, and many parents and workers multitask at mealtime and must eat at their desk or in the car. In addition, many restaurants are trying to promote late-night menus as the "fourth meal."

The emphasis on healthy snacking will continue as whole grain reformulations bring fiber and nutrients to popular snacks. In addition, increased interest has grown in allergen and gluten sensitivity in the snack aisle. Baking, oven-roasting and air-drying are replacing deep-fat frying as preferred cooking methods, according to Gilroy Food and Flavor’s "Food and FlavorCast.’

In addition, as prices increase more people are looking to snacks as a way of spending less money on food while still eating healthy.

"Health and wellness continues to play a large role in new product development and product reformulation as consumers look to manage health conditions with their diet," said Sheri White, marketing manager for Cargill’s sweet food category. "Cargill’s flavor development team has created solutions to improve flavor using a host of technologies, including enhancing sweetness perception using high intensity sweeteners, and masking off-notes that are inherent in many functional ingredients used in ‘healthier’ foods."

Wraps have emerged as a more healthful option on food service menus. With McDonald’s Chipotle BBQ Snack Wrap, Jack in the Box’s Sirloin Steak Pita Snack, Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Go Wrap, Sonic’s Fritos Chili Cheese Wrap, Chick-Fil-A’s Spicy Chicken Cool Wrap and KFC Oven Roasted Twister, snack wraps on the menu clearly are becoming a popular category for creating flavor innovation.

"Snack wraps are a dynamic category that takes the hugely popular traditional large wrap and shrinks it down to a grab-and-go size," said Sean Craig, senior executive chef with Gilroy Foods and Flavors. "The upshot of this savvy differentiation? You get a more portable — and just as important, more affordable — menu offering. With value and ‘good-for-you’ topping consumers’ lists, the snack wrap is a real winner.

"When creating these little wraps, the focus should center on packing flavor power into every bite. The flavor comes from things like seasoned vegetables. Not only do they introduce healthful vegetables with great grilled flavor, but they offer built-in customer seasoning as well."

Mr. Craig said he anticipates new versions of already popular snacks growing in popularity. As examples, he suggested innovative popcorn flavors and formats and re-invented mini sandwiches that offer both value and variety are going to be popular. He also anticipates innovation in ingredients and packaging, an increased focus on international flavors, and fruits and vegetables being incorporated into more snack items in the future.

New and exotic flavors

Spicy snacks also are increasing in popularity as chile peppers are being used in more products such as Doritos Collisions Zesty Taco and Chipotle Ranch, Central Market Organics Hatch Green Chile Tortilla Chips and Earthharvest Pumpkorn Organic Shelled Adobo-Chile Pumpkin Seeds. According to Mintel, 623 new chile products were introduced in the United States in the past year, and 276 of those were sauces and seasonings. In addition, the U.S.

Department of Agriculture said California’s chile harvest increased to 5,500 acres in 2006 from 4,800 acres in 2000.

"Salsa can be easily reinvented to fit an impressive variety of applications, and both retail brands and food service chefs are updating their offerings with specialty ingredients like Guajillo and Pasilla chiles, charred vegetables, fruits and unique regional ingredients," Mr. Craig said. "I have been seeing bolder, more vibrant salsas and anticipate their use expanding beyond the traditional into use as marinades, spreads and topically to add flavor impact."

Mr. Craig said as palates mature, flavors literally are getting hotter and more robust, often with the use of chiles and herbs. In addition, cooking methods such as roasting and caramelizing are used to develop richer flavors. Regional flavors are becoming more mainstream as well. As an example, he said Gorgonzola and Stilton are replacing generic blue cheese.

"Consumers’ willingness to try new and exotic flavor blends has really allowed for ‘out-of-the-box’ concepts by flavor creators," Ms. White said. "Developers are no longer limited to traditional flavors like vanilla, chocolate and strawberry for desserts. Combining familiar flavors with more exotic tastes offers consumers exciting taste experiences they are not afraid to try, like lemon-thyme sorbet or pear lychee cupcakes, for example. Floral combinations like lavender honey vanilla crème brulee have also made their way onto menus for diners seeking products that lend themselves to mood enhancement and relaxation."

One flavorful ingredient rising in popularity is pepitas, which are pumpkin seeds traditional to Latin America.

"Pepitas are the perfect ingredient for waking up traditional trail mix and nut assortments of sunflower seeds, shelled peanuts and almonds," Mr. Craig said.

Mr. Craig said pepitas also may be pureed to turn them into sauces to use on enchiladas and barbecue sandwiches. McCormick and Company, Inc., Sparks, Md., also listed garam masala and pepitas as one of the top flavor combinations in its "Flavor Forecast 2009," saying there are many ethnic options for the pairing from tagines with lamb, chicken and dried fruits to Pepita-Crusted Halibut with Blood Orange Jicama Chutney.

Despite all of the new flavors out there, some classics will remain popular.

"Chocolate and vanilla are classic flavors that continue to top the new flavor introduction lists for desserts, bakery items and dairy-based beverages," Ms. White said. "To bring new excitement to these traditional flavor concepts, developers have introduced the market to ‘products of origin’ such as Madagascar or Tahitian vanilla and chocolate from Brazil or the Ivory Coast."

In another area where familiarity is important, the concept of comfort food is growing.

"In times of uncertainty, consumers are likely to order familiar items," Mr. Craig said. "As interest in America’s regional cuisines grows, chefs and new product developers are riffing on long-held culinary traditions to create updated comfort foods. ‘New Southern cuisine’ is definitely one to watch — it fits not only today’s changing South, but also American consumers’ changing perspectives on health and dining."

Flavors in the meat category

In the meat category, natural ingredients, low sodium, improved palatability of lower grades of beef, vegetarian alternatives and liquid seasonings are important considerations in flavor innovation, said Emmanuel Laroche, vice-president of Symrise’s Marketing and Sensory Consumer Science Department.

Symrise said as tastes become "bolder" longer cooking times are necessary in proteins, and specific cooking methods such as braising, smoking and stewing are being used. In addition, there is greater interest in ethnic cooking traditions, proteins need to be more tempered, and new proteins are becoming more interesting. In terms of ethnic influences, North African influences are introducing braising, spices and citrus; African influence is focused on barbecue, stews and caramelized sugar; and Asian influence is making sweet and sour, fruit-based products and chutney popular.

The company also said in the current economic landscape, consumers are "trending down" on protein with smaller portions and cheaper cuts of meat that are less tender. As such, making beef more juicy, tender and flavorful is important as these are characteristics associated with Prime cuts of beef. To overcome the lack of these qualities in lower grades of beef, Symrise has worked to develop a marinade to enhance less expensive cuts of meat with more desirable juiciness and tenderness.

Symrise noted the reduction of sodium in meat products has a significant impact on texture, shelf life and overall flavor enhancement, and keeping up taste while maintaining clean labels and neutral flavor is also important. Symrise also is working on liquid seasonings that provide instant flavor delivery while replacing or extending more expensive traditional dry-seasoning blends, thus reducing manufacturing and handling costs.

According to Gilroy Foods and Flavors, the concept of South American steakhouses is increasing in popularity with meat cuts such as picanha, alcatra, fraldinha and filete.

"In our kitchen, we’ve been having fun with robust barbecue cooking from Brazil to Argentina," said Liz Olson, a chef with Gilroy Foods and Flavors. "The simple grilled meats provide the perfect canvas for fresh, flavorful seasonings and sauces. Take chimichurri — it’s a bright and bursting blend of parsley, garlic, oil, lemon and vinegar, and it makes the perfect addition to basting sauces, marinates, tableside dips and compound butters that add a last-minute flavor blast to quick-grilled meats."

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