KANSAS CITY — Flavors may fit into the plans of those who seek functional health benefits like immunity because of COVID-19. Nostalgic flavors also are a source of comfort during the pandemic. Flavors based on fruits and vegetables may target both the health and comfort categories.

Comax Flavors, Melville, NY, listed apple carrot ginger, blueberry elderberry, and manuka honey as top flavors under a 2021 flavor trend called “immunity boost.”

“Individuals are turning to food and beverages with functional ingredients to stay healthy,” said Catherine Armstrong, vice president of corporate communications for Comax Flavors. “To meet the growing demand, Comax Flavors created the Immunity Boost range.”

The flavors may be used in applications such as non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages, beverage syrups, plant-based, dairy applications, baked foods, and confections as well as nutrition and performance products.

Other 2021 trends listed by Comax Flavors include “breakfast basics” with flavors such as cereal and milk, French toast, and jelly donut; “home baker” with flavors such as banana bread, blueberry cheesecake and pizza; and “chicken soars” with flavors such as chicken vegetable soup, fried chicken and grilled chicken.

Comax Flavors listed flavors like banana bread under "home baker" as a 2021 trend.

Bell Flavors & Fragrances, Northbrook, Ill., is seeing an increase in products with naturally occurring vitamin C like acerola and citrus fruit, said Joan Harvey, senior vice president of commercial and general manager of the flavors division.

“Citrus flavors have the recognition of being healthy,” she said. “They are used as natural or organic and deliver a refreshing and clean taste. Berries also have antioxidant properties. So we expect to see a rise of these flavors through all product categories.

“Due to the ongoing pandemic, any callouts with anti-microbial properties, including flavors using essential oils or ingredients, will be popular. For instance, more products using tea tree, clove, peppermint, garlic, cinnamon, magnolia, horseradish, to name a few.”

The Spark trend report from Bell this year is taking a long-term view and identifying five consumer macro trends, said Kelli Heinz, vice president of marketing and industry affairs. The “well balanced” trend touches on areas of overall wellness. The “finding silver linings” trend is about reward and indulgence. “Global consciousness” refers to sustainability, particularly on global ingredients. “Together apart” looks at how people have engaged with each other in a new virtual environment. “Escapism” is seeing new ways that flavors and fragrances are being used in new formats.

Ring in the new year with yuzu

Beck Flavors, Maryland Heights, Mo., listed top flavors for 2021 in four categories: fruit, botanical, innovative and people’s choice.

Yuzu, the top fruit flavor, has a tart flavor and tastes like a combination of a grapefruit and a mandarin orange, according to Beck Flavors. It may be paired with other fruits like strawberry or pear.

“Not only does it have a fun and crowd-pleasing taste; it provides an innovative twist to multiple applications like cocktails, sparkling water, energy drinks and more,” said Cat Neville, producer and host of St. Louis-based tasteMakers, which hosted a webinar announcing flavor trends for 2021.

Yuzu tastes like a combination of a grapefruit and a mandarin orange.

Cherry blossom was chosen as the top botanical flavor. It has a light sweetness and may be used in items like tea and desserts.

Dill pickle won in the innovative category.

“It can be used in a wide range of applications, including cocktails, beer, chocolate, coffee, candy, ice cream, chips, popcorn and more,” said Adam Berge, an application technologist for the Beck Flavors laboratory team.

Online votes from people across the United States determined that honeycomb toffee won in the people’s choice category.

“Both of these flavors — honeycomb and toffee — are popular by themselves, but the combination is where the innovation happens,” said Paul Tripi, vice president and partner of Beck Flavors.

Flavors that function featured prominently in the 2021 beverage flavor forecast of Flavorman, Louisville, Ky. Beverages will come with immunity, cognitive and mood-boosting benefits. Fragrant flavors like hibiscus, elderflower and orange blossom will be combined with other berry, botanical and citrus elements to emphasize functional ingredient blends in applications such as teas, enhanced waters and kombucha.

Comfort in nostalgia

Other trending beverage flavors that may gain traction in 2021 are those that tingle or provide comfort, according to Flavorman.

Flavors may provide a soothing constant to people within the current social and political climate. While nostalgia and indulgence will be sought by consumers in 2021, classic flavors may return in more sophisticated forms.

“When you think about childhood flavors re-imagined for premium applications, you get something like a smoky vanilla cold brew, bubble gum seltzer or a fruit punch gin cocktail,” said Kristen Wemer, director of beverage development for Flavorman. “We’re experiencing a renaissance of these nostalgic flavors — peanut butter, orange creamsicle, grape cotton candy — in concepts like hard coffee, energy drinks and craft soda.”

Flavors like grapefruit, lemon and lime will remain popular, and companies may emphasize specific geographic locations.

“Tracing flavors to a specific region creates a transportive experience that helps differentiate an otherwise standard flavor,” Ms. Wemer said. “As the market continues to saturate with the usual essentials, consumers can expect more diversity and premiumization through varietals of familiar flavors.”

Familiar flavors, such as vanilla, honey and peanut butter, may provide a soothing constant to consumers within the current social and political climate.

Victoria Ward, senior marketing manager for Tastepoint by IFF, a business unit of New York-based International Flavors & Fragrances, also expects classic flavors to shine in the upcoming year.

“It’s such an interesting time in the world of flavor trends right now, given the wrench that 2020 has thrown in,” she said. “We’re seeing some adventurous flavors climb the ranks, but we can’t deny the current appeal of comfort-driven nostalgia.”

Classic flavors like olive oil and honey are making a resurgence, largely because of consumers spending more time in their own kitchens, she said.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a pantry staple more indispensable than olive oil,” Ms. Ward said. “While it’s a go-to for just about any savory application, consumers are ready to get more experimental with this comfort classic. We’ve spotted olive oil flavor in ice cream, cookies and candy, but we anticipate even bolder appearances in the coming year.”

Buddha’s hand in beverages

Buddha’s hand and chicory coffee offer flavor excitement, and they both appear on a 2021 flavor trend list from Tastepoint by IFF.

“Buddha’s hand is one of my personal favorites from our 2021 list,” Ms. Ward said. “Its aroma is intoxicating, and the majestic fruit itself is a sight to behold. There is incredible potential for this citron to energize the beverage space, particularly.”

Chicory coffee has long been popular in New Orleans.

“While it has made a name for itself on the coffee scene, chicory is technically a plant in the dandelion family whose root can be roasted and ground up,” Ms. Ward said. “Its woody and nutty nuances make it a natural fit for the coffee space, and this flavor could find itself anywhere coffee flavor goes, which is just about everywhere.”

Cherry blossom, a popular flavor in Japan, could become a hit in 2021, especially since the Summer Olympic Games, postponed in 2020, are scheduled to take place in Tokyo next year.

“Cherry blossom, also called sakura, pairs the powerhouse trends of floral favorites and Japanese inspirations,” Ms. Ward said. “Its subtle sweetness and mild floral profile make it an agreeable pairing partner, but it’s also beautiful on its own.”

In a nod to nostalgia and the public's craving for a return to normalcy, Sarah Hickey, senior director of insights and market research for Dawn Foods, Jackson Mich., pointed to Datassential menu data released in December. The findings showed chocolate flavor has grown 5% in menu popularity and restaurants are showing more interest in unique chocolate flavors like Nutella, which is expected to grow 25% in menu popularity in the next four years.

“After a year filled with uncertainty, consumers are craving a return to normalcy, and that will be reflected in their flavor choices,” Ms. Hickey said. “We expect to see consumers seek out classic flavors as a way to bring comfort and familiarity back into their day-to-day lives.”