Taste always comes up No. 1 when consumers describe their decision to pick one food over another. Baked foods and snacks are no exception. When formulators consider adding flavors to these products, they know they’re determining appeal and sales potential.

The bakery market has long been dominated by butter, lemon and ­vanilla — flavors so universally used that industry buyers know them better as “BLV” — and likewise, cheese and BBQ rule in savory snacks. But there’s lots more creativity to be ­applied to flavor choices.

The “next big thing” in flavors isn’t easily defined. A variety of consumer trends now impact choices. Experts interviewed by Baking & Snack identified sweet goods taking on savory choices as well as salty snacks opting for sweeter tastes. Items formulated to appeal to wellness shoppers often need an assist to mask or smooth over some of the rough taste edges of those healthy ingredients.

And while all of this is going on, some food companies have even democratized flavor choice, asking consumers to vote for their favorites.

“Every food product is different, with different requirements and different desired outcomes,” explained Karen Grenus, senior food scientist, Edlong Dairy Flavors, Elk Grove Village, IL. “Depending on the application, flavors can be used and combined in different ways to ensure the most ­consumer-pleasing results.”

Comfortable with an edge

Even as the world economy recovers, many consumers find these to be uncertain times, and they seek comfort in the familiar, according to Devon Edmonson, marketing coordinator, Mother Murphy’s Laboratories, Greensboro, NC. “These nostalgic tastes offer relief and security from a hectic lifestyle,” she said.

“For example, caramel and lime have been pegged as nostalgic flavors to watch due to their versatility in pairing with other flavors and their classic taste profile,” Ms. Edmonson observed. Other sweet flavors go both home-style and ­indulgent, including creamy banana, coconut and chocolate.

Ron Heddleson, director of technical services, QualiTech, Inc., Chaska, MN, added S’Mores, French toast and peanut-butter-and-jelly flavors to the comfort food list. Another trend involves nontraditional pairings of sweet and spice or heat.

Combinations of sweet and salty turn up in the newest snacks and baked foods, according to Catherine Armstrong, vice-president of corporate communications, Comax Flavors, Commerce, CA. An example is salted caramel flavor, which she described as “fresh and indulgent” and that “caters to a wide variety of tastes and product possibilities.”

Sour flavors such as cherry and blood orange appeal to those desiring tart and acidic taste profiles, according to Ms. Edmonson. “Retro and old-fashioned desserts have been trending the last few years for baked foods,” she said, also naming cocktail-inspired flavors that add an exciting yet familiar taste profile to products.

A different kind of nostalgia figures into the appeal of artisan breads, which carry strong yeast and fermentation flavors. These characteristics are not so easily created in the context of high-speed commercial processes, so Bill Buhler, president, Butter Buds, Inc., Racine, WI, recommended use of dried beer extract used at 0.5%, formula weight basis. “It doesn’t come across as a ‘beer’ top note but provides fermented notes,” he explained. Instead, it evokes the flavor of long fermentation processes and is now being used in pizza dough, breadsticks and calzones.

From East and West

Snacks and savory items now tap the world beat at an accelerating rate. “Every month, we see more of the Mediterranean flavors in products being offered at the retail level,” said Phil Sprovieri, vice-president of sales and marketing, Flavorchem, Downers Grove, IL. “The more savory types capture the flavors of the northern coastal regions of Africa and the Middle East.”

These developments are in line with the accelerating appeal of bold flavors. Ms. Armstrong defined these as delivering “a sudden burst of flavor, extra heat or deep sweet bite that excites the palate from start to finish. Taste preferences are continuously expanding and expressing a global sophistication.” An example would be combining smoky chipotle and buffalo hot sauce flavors with Thai spices.

Another good example, described by Jennifer Lowry, vice-president, sales and marketing, Edlong Dairy Flavors, is the butter curry potato chip developed by the company. “Curry is a flavor profile that is becoming more prevalent as consumers grow more adventurous and seek ethnic flavors in their dining and snacking options,” she said. “It is also a profile that can be seen as strong or spicy.” The butter and cream flavors added to the seasoning blend moderate and balance the heat of the curry and creates a cream, fatty character to the finished chip.

Some flavor pairings originate closer to home, noted Polly Barrett, director, R&D applied flavors technology, Kalsec, Inc., Kalamazoo, MI. She cited flavors profiled on regional Americana such as the pairing of fried chicken and syrupy waffles, a menu combination unique to the South.

“Because of the changing demographic population in the US, we are seeing increases in requests for various ethnic flavors such as jalapeño, cumin, papaya, mango and other tropicals,” she added.

Marlene Smothers, associate director, sweet applications, WILD Flavors, Erlanger, KY, confirmed the regional trend, describing Georgia peach as one of those localized ­flavor types.

“Another important trend is toward seasonal flavors,” she continued. “Hot cocoa, chocolate mint, pumpkin spice and raspberry lemonade are all flavors popping up for seasonal bakery offerings.” Applications for these include toaster pastries, snack bars and chips as well as gourmet cookies, frozen baked foods and other desserts.

Adding a flavor to baked foods is usually done with liquid extracts or powdered concentrates, but formulators should consider the opportunity that flavored bits offer, Mr. Heddleson suggested. “Inclusion flavor delivery systems are often the most cost-effective ways of ­delivering high-impact flavor notes in baked foods because they provide greater resistance to volatilization of expensive flavors,” he said.

To build healthy appeal

Ethnic flavors continue their strong appeal and are now applied to health-and-wellness foods. “Consumers are looking for less fat and sodium, driving demand for ­flavorful solutions such as herbs and spices that add flavor without adding fat and salt,” Ms. Edmonson noted. Flavors such as ­chipotle, ­jalapeño, onion and garlic have dominated crunchy snacks in recent years, with even hotter flavors like siracha and smoky ones like paprika increasingly on the rise.

Formulators continue to draw inspiration from foodservice, especially flavors that create or enhance authentic taste experience. Brown notes, especially the flavor of browned butter can evoke chef-created tastes, according to Ms. Lowry. She pointed to use of flavors to manage the nutrition profiles of baked foods and snacks. “For example, a developer can reduce overall calorie count and lower fat levels by replacing some of the butter in a formula with natural butter flavor,” she said. Dairy flavors provide tools for ­formulators of gluten-free foods to mask the beany and other off-notes of ingredients used in this category.

The replacement of fat represents the biggest formulation change in baked foods, especially in the types of fats used to achieve trans-fat-free claims, observed Dean Kasper, vice-president, technical services, Mother Murphy’s Laboratories. “Palm shortenings seem to block our flavor ­receptor and require increased levels of added flavor,” he said. This can be particularly noticeable in sweet goods, donuts and pastries.

“One of the keys to success in better-for-you foods is creating an indulgent experience for consumers who want to eat better without feeling like they’re sacrificing flavor or eating quality,” said Rick Schultz, vice-president of strategic development, Edlong Dairy Flavors. Dairy flavors fill this need because they can supply masking, mouthfeel and desirable flavor all in one.

Superfruits, with their known ­antioxidant content, evoke a healthy image, and so do their flavors. Pat Butler, vice-president of R&D, Mother Murphy’s Laboratories, ­reported getting many requests to develop fusion flavors that combine a popular fruit and a superfruit.

Older consumers represent an interesting market for flavors, according to Dominique Giannotta, global business development and project director, Solvay Aroma Performance, Houston. “This increasing generation has specific needs for flavors, especially vanilla, which can help provide improved appetite appeal for better food consumption,” she said. Expert taste panels and pilot tests with ­consumers verify this effect.

Vanilla provides a smoothing effect that helps the appeal of many good-for-you foods just as it does for chocolate. “Vanilla flavor is a ‘heart note’ that helps cover and round off the strong taste of whole grains,” Ms. Giannotta said. “It masks floury off-notes in these products.”

With better-for-you products ­occupying an ever-more prominent place in consumer shopping habits, the role flavor plays can make all the difference between success and failure of baked foods and snacks formulated for these categories. Because great taste ranks at the top of every consumer’s list of food ­desires, flavors will continue to drive innovation.