November 10, 2009
by Donna Berry
Blame it on increased international travel and cable-channel foodies. Today’s consumer wants more from food, especially more in terms of overall satisfaction. And the first start is flavor.
"Today’s consumer is willing to explore flavors that they were not ready for before," said Jonathan Davis, vice-president of culinary development, La Brea Bakery, Van Nuys, CA. "Travel and celebrity chefs have opened up people’s minds, and they are willing to be adventurous like mixing sweet with salty."
CULINOLOGY IN THE BAKERY. Culinologists such as Mr. Davis are driving this trend, particularly in the baked foods category. "Opposite flavors add to one another, creating an interesting flavor experience," he said. One such intriguing combination Mr. Davis discovered is black pepper, balsamic vinegar and cherries.
"Bakers are taking more chances and using more creative flavors and even textures," said Chris Kelly, director of technical services, Advanced Food Systems, Somerset, NJ.
Jeff Rotondi, senior flavor technologist, Takasago International Corp., Rockleigh, NJ, added, "Culinology is the blending of culinary arts and food science." A culinologist is a chef in a lab coat. Culinologists fuse tried and true flavors with the unexpected to give products a special kick."
"Culinology is helping broaden traditional bakery and snack items to have more taste complexity and flavor impact," said Carol McBride, category director, sweet business unit, Symrise, Inc., Teterboro, NJ. "By looking at restaurant and menu trends, we use Culinology to make flavors that create a ‘wow factor’ in your mouth, so that even with a smaller product portion — a growing trend in these categories — you feel satisfied.
"Most of the unique flavors in baked foods require a variety of methods to deliver flavor," she continued. "Some flavor is usually added to the batter or dough, then mix-ins or inclusions are added, plus toppings."
Carter Green, director of science and technology at Takasago, clarified, "Liquid flavors are typically added to the fat component of any bakery formulation. Oil-soluble flavors commonly have a lower flash point and hold up better through the baking process if incorporated into shortening or oil. Spray-dried versions of oil-soluble flavors are also used quite often and are added directly to the dry portion of the formula."
The process of microencapsulation helped improve flavor retention in many baked foods. Microencapsulation is a process where tiny particles, in this case a flavorant, are encased by a coating. This allows for the controlled release of the flavor, protection against oxidation and improvement in the release of volatile compounds. Encapsulated powders are believed to deliver flavor better than liquid flavors because they are not as volatile. They also hold up better through the stresses of baking.
"From a flavor standpoint, the key is to have all the flavors work together without being overdone," Ms. McBride said. "Our expertise in flavor raw materials focuses on taste impact, bake stability, flavor release and encapsulation so that the flavors do not meld together but rather release in a pleasing profile."
Morgan Murphy, account manager, Mother Murphy’s Laboratories, Greensboro, NC, added, "The Culinology field has done a great job of introducing bold, cultural flavors into somewhat traditional-style preparations. At the same time, they have been able to create a ‘better for you’ attitude through the likes of exotic fruits rich in a number of health-enhancing benefits. It seems that this broadening of the palate brings a new sensational dimension to the eating experience, and it translates directly into baked items, particularly sauces, snack seasonings and desserts.
"Savory and exotic flavors seem to be the rave," he continued. "We have daily requests for all sorts of unique flavors like prickly pear, persimmon and snakeskin. "Our job is to create or supplement the flavor characteristics of the baked food. Sometimes this happens through the dough, and sometimes it happens in a filling or icing. It just depends on the application."
SAVORY MEETS SWEET. Savory flavors are increasingly popular in nontypical savory applications. Savory has many meanings. It is often easiest to understand by what it is not, and savory foods are not "sweet treats." It’s steak not pie. It’s salad dressing not hot fudge.
Savory is best described as a flavor profile. It is not a basic taste, of which humans possess five: bitter, salty, sweet, sour and umami. However, many sensory experts agree that savory is mostly umami.
Umami has long been recognized throughout Asia; however, only in recent years has it become accepted as a basic taste throughout most of the developed world. Taking its name from the Japanese language, the umami taste comes from the amino acid glutamate and select ribonucleotides. All of these occur naturally in foods such as red meat, smoked and cured meats, fish, vegetables, and aged cheeses.
Savory foods often contain herbs, vegetables and peppers. When some of these ingredients are cooked, their inherent reducing sugars and amino acids undergo chemical modification through the Maillard reaction, resulting in caramelized and sautéed notes.
"Savory flavors are turning up in baked foods that are typically considered sweet treats," Mr. Rotondi said. "We have successfully baked some savory shortbreads with flavors such as blue cheese and curry. On the ethnic, spicy side, we have formulated a delightful Chinese 5-spice chocolate cupcake with green tea frosting."
There’s an increasing trend to add buffalo flavor, the spicy, hot pepper-laden flavoring that has origins in Buffalo, NY, where it was first applied on chicken wings, to all types of foods, including bakery products and snack foods. For example, FoodShouldTasteGood, Inc., Needham Heights, MA, markets a buffalo-flavored baked tortilla chip. The company described the chip as a combination of cayenne pepper, vinegar and garlic that is baked into the chip, not topically applied like most seasoned snack chips.
General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, MN, recently extended its popular Chex Mix snack line with Chex Mates Buffalo and Blue Cheese Snacks. This baked snack combines buffalo-flavored Chex cereal pieces with blue cheese-flavored cereal pieces.
TASTING HOT, HOT, HOT. Blue cheese dip is a common companion to buffalo wings, and Wixon, Inc., St. Francis, WI, developed an innovative twist on blue cheese snack seasoning that combines the distinctive bite of blue cheese with tangy apple and rich buttermilk. This flavor supplier also fuses sweet with heat. Raspberry chipotle seasoning is said to have just the right amount of smoky chipotle pepper notes to complement a refreshing raspberry flavor that has a hint of lime. Also, a spicy habanero seasoning blends jalapeño and habanero peppers with garlic and spices.
Early this year, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Gridley, CA, introduced Sticks & Twigs, which the company described as a better-than-a pretzel stick snack. Based on exotic whole grains and seeds, Sticks & Twigs come in a Curry variety, a blend of spices that provides "a little heat with a little sweet and a lot of flavor," according to the company. Also a Chipotle Tomato variety combines the smoky heat of chipotle peppers with a rich, sweet tomato layer.
Snack flavors are becoming more sophisticated with multiple flavor layers and oftentimes unique ingredients to create the ultimate snacking experience. For example, jalapeño and chipotle have established themselves as deliverers of heat; however, pepper alternatives such as curry and wasabi provide a twist to heat delivery.
Another option is to simply add a heat sensation, or, to a pepper-flavored product, add a cooling sensation. "We’ve developed warming and cooling flavor sensations," said Pat Butler, vice-president of R&D at Mother Murphy’s Laboratories. "Bakers can now put heat in hot chocolate marshmallow muffins, as well as in bacon and chipotle bread rolls."
Mr. Green, said, "Our product developers are able to combine Takasago’s unique flavors with sensations such as cooling, heating and tingling, for example, chocolate with heat, tropical fruits and cooling, citrus and salivation."
Although not yet common in the US, a popular subset of savory is described as roast flavors, and these are showing up on all types of snack foods abroad. Recent launches include Woolworths’ Roast Lamb & Herb chips in South Africa, Arnott’s Shapes Mini Munchies with Roast Chicken Flavor in Australia and Eta Uppercuts Kettles Potato Chips with Succulent Roasted Lamb & Mint Flavor in New Zealand.
In the UK, supermarket giants Asda and Tesco both introduced private label snacks with meat flavor profiles: Asda Extra Special Aberdeen Angus Steak & Mixed Peppercorn Crisps and Tesco Honey Roast Ham Handcooked Crisps. Britain’s Golden Wonder recently rolled out a Texan Grill flavor oven-baked corn snack under the Golden Bakes brand. And Marmite, the sticky, dark brown salty and savory spread made from yeast extract, has now made its way into the snack category thanks to Britain’s Walkers Snacks Ltd.
"We recently have been getting a number of requests to use cooking flavors as snack seasonings, for example, Cajun/Creole, grilled steak and onion, Jamaican jerk and savory fajita," Mr. Kelly said.
SURPRISINGLY SWEET. Another trend is to formulate with health and wellness flavors, including botanicals, nuts, seeds, superfruits and tea concentrates. "Attractive combinations of health benefits and exotic tastes are starting to merge, such as ginger zing," Ms. Butler said.
This is exemplified by Gookies from The Netherlands, new all-natural cookies that come in three unique flavor combinations: Black Pepper & Rose, Grapefruit & Butterscotch and Sour Cherry & Chocolate Flakes. The flavors are based on the principle of combining "the sweet with the sour, the dark with the light," according to the company.
Botanical Bakery LLC, Fairfield, CA, recently introduced a line of tea cookies infused with select botanical ingredients. The company said it believes today’s consumer appreciates unique flavors and has an adventurous and educated palate. The company carefully selected the most aromatic culinary herbs and spices, with the actual leaves, flowers, stems or seeds being incorporated into the dough using a proprietary method. Botanical Bakery Tea Cookies come in six varieties: Cardamom, Cinnamon Basil, Fennel Pollen, Ginger Lemongrass, Lavender and Lemon Thyme.
BORDERLESS BAKING. "Flavors that are typically beverage related are also being used in and on baked foods," Mr. Rotondi said. This includes ethnic beverage flavors such as the increasingly popular cocktail the mojito, a Cuban drink that combines mint and lime with rum.
Indeed, unprecedented growth of the US Hispanic population, along with nonminority groups opting for more foods with bold Hispanic flavors has created Latin fever in the bakery and snack food category, according to Ms. Butler. "We’ve created a wide range of ethnic flavors including hibiscus, horchata, tamarind and mojito."
But it’s not just Hispanic flavors. "The popularity and increased availability of sushi has taken the flavors of seaweed and wasabi mainstream," Mr. Kelly said. "And recently we have been fielding requests for kimchi flavor. This fermented Korean cabbage dish has a sweet and sour flavor profile with heat from red chili pepper. It works quite well in baked snacks and flatbreads.
"Indian flavor profiles, some with the heat of peppers and others with the sweetness of coconut, are also being used to flavor flatbreads and wraps," he continued. "Dried flavors are added right into the dough or batter."
Mr. Davis added that while he was overseas he observed a trend in substituting fruit and vegetable flours for some or all of the wheat flour in a recipe, depending on application. "These flours add color, flavor and nutrition," he said.
Fruit and vegetable peel and pulp is dried and ground into flour. The most common flours are from bananas, beets, bell peppers, carrots or sweet potatoes. The flours also contain no gluten.
This trend in incorporating nontraditional flavors into baked foods such as breads, muffins and snack crackers is not going to go away — not when there are more than a dozen food channels on cable television," Mr. Kelly concluded.