Sweet with heat is trending in almost all food categories. Why not bacon?
“Various designer chili peppers, such as ghost and hatch, combine well with the salty, sweet and smoky flavors of bacon,” said Bob Kaegi, director of meat applications at Wixon Inc. “Sweet heat is also very popular and can be achieved by adding fruity flavors such as peach and pineapple to chilies.”
Mr. Johnson said, “Combining sweetness from honey or agave; adding a lemon, lime or orange flavor; and blending with hot notes from a variety of peppers, these flavor options complement today’s consumers’ desire to be adventurous, but with a twist of familiarity.”
An innovative ingredient gaining traction among bacon processors is naturally smoked sugar. It may be added to the brines that flavor bacon, to the cure or incorporated into rubs.
“Bacon can be injected and rubbed with flavor,” said Christiana Greene, technical director for Sensient Natural Ingredients. “This allows for multiple levels of flavor addition.”
Such layering on of flavors, as well as offering bacon in convenient forms, presents growth opportunities for manufacturers. For example, at the end of 2016, Godshall’s Quality Meats, Inc. turned its turkey bacon into a flavorful topping. The new Crumblz line features all-natural, uncured, fully cooked turkey bacon crumbles with bold flavors, including barbecue, chili lime and smoky.
Under the Artisan Butcher uncured bacon brand, Godshall’s offers some non-traditional flavors. These thick slices of bacon come in apple spice, bourbon molasses, coffee vanilla and Korean barbecue flavors.
Flavoring bacon does come with some challenges. These vary by how the flavor is applied and how the bacon is used.
“With injected whole muscle products, intended to be sliced later, it’s important that the flavoring ingredients stay soluble in the brine or marinade,” said Poulson Joseph, principal scientist at Kalsec. “Spice extracts, as compared to dried spices, work well with injection systems. In addition to adding flavor, spice extracts may function as antioxidants. They assist with limiting oxidative deterioration in sliced bacon and thereby ensuring a flavorful product with adequate shelf life, naturally.”
Brine viscosity also influences flavor absorption and retention, even with injected products. With cured bacons, the sodium nitrite may impact the flavoring ingredients.
“Traditional cures and brines impact flavor delivery, especially the sweet profiles,” said Judson McLester, executive chef and ingredient sales manager for McIlhenny Co. “The move toward clean label uncured bacon that is derived from more than just pork affords the opportunity to truly innovate around taste and has opened numerous possibilities.”
There are often challenges in having flavors come through desirably in bacon. This is especially true in microwaveable bacon products, as well as bacon used as an ingredient in other prepared foods, as the bacon gets cooked twice before being consumed.
“Some profiles, such as maple, have a stronger aroma than flavor in application,” said Megan McGough, senior research and development scientist of meat at Kerry Group. “One way to overcome this problem is to increase the flavor usage or use a more concentrated flavor. Another option is increase the slice thickness to deliver more flavor.”
Cost, as always, must be factored into the process. This includes muscle size, types of flavor or rub, and use of smoke.
“If an entire belly is flavored, it can be difficult to find uses and sales outlets for portions of the belly that are trimmed during processing,” Mr. Johnson said.
So what are some flavor concepts consumers can expect to see on menus and in retailer cases in the near future?
Chipotle chocolate-covered bacon is what Sensient’s Ms. Greene sees as a next-generation snack.
“It’s the ultimate sweet, spicy, smoky combination,” she said. “It’s sure to intrigue consumers’ taste buds.”
Jean Heimann, culinary scientist at LifeSpice, has some flavored bacon concepts she would like to see commercialized. These include apple horseradish, beer candied, miso maple and sriracha glazed.
As smoke makes its way into the cocktail arena, the flavors of spirits have a future in bacon. Think Manhattan-style bacon. It would be flavored with cherrywood smoke, brown sugar, bourbon and a hint of bitters.
“I always thought pre-cooked thick-cut bacon that you glaze at home in the oven would be interesting,” said Christopher Warsow, corporate executive chef and manager of culinary applications for Bell Flavors & Fragrances. “The consumer could also bake the bacon in the oven, like professional chefs do, then glaze the bacon with a seasoning mix or liquid glaze that came with the bacon. This topping would crystallize on the bacon for a great eating experience.”
Spicy tamarind is an example of such a glaze. It could be sweetened with palm sugar that would be balanced by the acidity of the tamarind, according to Warsow. Heat could be supplied by cayenne or Thai birds-eye chilies.
Zak Otto, lab manager of meat applications at Wixon, said there’s an opportunity to use smoked salts with flavors such as applewood, cherry, alder, olive and mulberry in bacon rubs. Other flavor innovations include piri piri rub with bourbon-infused bacon, garlic parmesan rub with red wine-infused bacon, chipotle pineapple bacon rub and jalapeño ranch bacon rub.
“And not for the faint of heart, how about trying ghost pepper curry bacon rub,” Mr. Otto said. “As bacon continues to go from a side item to a center-of-the-plate product, we can expect anything in terms of flavor innovation.”