"Pork has a neutral taste profile that is a great platform for flavor." - Lisa Stern, Lifespice Ingredients

Craving adventure

Much of this desire for spice and heat is coming from consumers in the millennial demographic, who have an insatiable appetite for adventure.

“Millennials are not the same creatures as their parents, and they are turning the food world around,” according to Dax Schaefer, corporate executive chef and director of culinary innovation at Asenzya Inc. in Oak Creek, Wis., formerly known as Foran Spice Co. “To put it simply, they want to eat food that is new, that they can feel good about and that is a little adventurous.”

Formulating for foodies

According to research from Chicago-based Mintel, nearly half of all US consumers consider themselves foodies.

“Satisfying hunger is not the sole purpose for today’s consumers to eat,” says Jean Shieh, marketing manager of Sensient Natural Ingredients in Turlock, Calif. “Many are looking for intriguing flavors and sensations, experiences worth sharing with social groups. For meat and poultry, seasonings and spices are great tools to provide variations of existing product lines or to introduce proteins that are less familiar to consumers.”

Adding value to protein is key. “Craft meats are becoming more popular,” Augustine says. “Consumers are looking for ways to elevate their sandwiches with new flavors and bolder tastes such as sliced luncheon meats in varieties like basil pesto chicken and rosemary with sage turkey.”

They want new flavors and convenient eating forms, but they don’t want anything artificial added. “Today’s consumers are looking for bold flavors that still deliver clean labels,” says Bruce Armstrong, research and development manager-proteins for Chicago-based LifeSpice Ingredients. “We are being challenged to deliver the umami kick of monosodium glutamate under the banner of clean.

“In most cases, we are accomplishing this with yeast extract, yet, there are customers who are resistant to yeast extract,” he says. “When this is the situation, we typically use a blend of spices that includes black, white and red peppers to deliver balanced full flavor. Adding organic acids help punch up the flavor, with natural spice extractives and natural flavors further driving flavor.”

Shieh agreed. “Consumers want premium meats with less or no additives and preservatives,” she says. Sensient now offers a proprietary, clean-label blend of natural ingredients designed to bring harmony and balance to savory seasonings. Based on a blend of vegetable powders, the ingredient is void of added monosodium glutamate, salt, gluten and any synthetic ingredients.

The desire for clean, simple and better-for-you is driving innovation in gourmet sausages, in particular poultry-based sausages, as consumers appreciate the fact that they have less saturated fat than red meat, according to Shieh. “Spicy seasonings are finding their way into these sausages, everything from buffalo to southwest,” she adds.

Stuffed burgers are also becoming more popular, especially at the meat counter of upscale supermarkets. In addition to being stuffed with ingredients such as bacon, cheese and vegetables, many include a signature spice blend. “They are burgers with a present inside,” says Lisa Stern, vice president of sales and marketing at LifeSpice. “Hardwood smoke seasonings are very popular. They are often combined with emerging ethnic blends.”

For example, za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend typically containing sesame seeds, thyme, sumac, marjoram and oregano, adds zest to beef burgers, meatballs and meatloaf.

Another emerging ethnic seasoning is ras el hanout. This Moroccan spice blend has no definitive recipe and often includes as many as 25 different spices. Recipes generally include cardamom, chilies, cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, ginger, paprika, peppercorn and turmeric. Pork and poultry are common applications.

“With a steady increase in beef prices, pork chops and tenderloins are becoming popular,” Stern says. “Pork has a neutral taste profile that is a great platform for flavor. Seasonings such as mixed herb, Southwest and teriyaki continue to be popular, but as consumers’ palates become more sophisticated, there’s growing interest in more complex rubs such as ancho chili with orange, balsamic and herb, Korean barbecue, Cuban mojo and Thai coconut curry.”

Many of these flavor profiles can be incorporated into gourmet sausages. “With consumers’ renewed interest in the first meal of the day, the gourmet breakfast sausage – links and patties – category is booming,” Stern says. “We are getting requests for seasonings that include fruit flavors with savory spices, as well as different smoke profiles. One quite tasty blend is apple, honey and sage.”

Health and wellness is an unexpected twist emerging in seasonings for proteins. “Consumers are aware that turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and other spices are associated with health and wellness, and they are seeking them out in everyday foods,” Stern says. “People are seeing that curry is not only tasty, it can be beneficial as well.”

And curries are not created equal. “Curries are no longer just red, brown or yellow, but rather red Thai coconut with kefer lime, or Nepali with green chilies, garlic, turmeric and ginger,” Stern says. “Each has its own beneficial attributes.”

Curries complement the increase in use of marinades and sauces, many with an ethnic twist. According to Kalsec research, almost one-third of consumers say they now cook marinated meats more often than they did five years ago. And spicy ethnic dishes containing protein are steadily growing in popularity.

The popularity of Indian cuisine is growing as consumers learn the depth and breadth of this particularly rich heritage, according to Shieh. “We’ve combined mirch, which is Hindi for chili pepper, with maple to create a mirch maple seasoning that delivers sweet with heat. It’s great in gourmet breakfast sausage.”