KANSAS CITY — As flavor trends shift from the mass market to a focus on regional flavors, product developers are inundated with options, particularly from such regions within Mexico, Latin America, Cuba and even some parts of the Caribbean. The flavors may range from spicy to sweet and offer a full range of options to differentiate products on store shelves and in new menu items and to drive growth in a wide variety of product categories.
“Today’s consumers crave new taste experiences and that’s driving growth for more cheese variety,” said Brenda Bell, insights manager for Sargento Foods, Plymouth, Wis., during a webinar about incorporating cheese into product formulations. “Authentic Hispanic cheese, which has been growing at 2.5 times the rate of the natural cheese category, is an example of where consumers are going.”
Some authentic Hispanic types are manchego, which has a nutty flavor and great melting properties. Cotija, often referred to as the Parmesan of Mexico, is a fresh, salty and crumbly cheese that may top all types of dishes.
Even though share of the total U.S. population with Hispanic ancestry has been steadily increasing, it is non-Hispanic consumers who are embracing and driving the growth of authentic Hispanic and Mexican-blend cheeses, said Noah Michaels, team leader of the culinary group at Symrise, Inc., Teterboro, N.J.
“I think you have an interesting dynamic where mainstream America is accepting Hispanic flavors and making them their own,” Mr. Michaels said “And then you have Hispanics living in America who are starting to bring more American-type ingredients into their traditional cuisine at the same time.”
Mr. Michaels pointed to ingredient availability as a key driver in the development of more regional Hispanic flavors that are trending.
“In the ‘40s and ‘50s, a taco was defined as having cheddar cheese, ground beef and iceberg lettuce,” he said. “That’s what was available at the time. Today, consumers are more adventurous, and we are able to work with specialty chilies and unique cuts of meat to create the flavors consumers want to try.”
Mr. Michaels cited the chef Alex Stupak, a principal in New York’s Empellon restaurant group, as an influencer who is innovating Mexican cuisine with the use of unique flavors and ingredients. Menu items at Empellon’s Taqueria include tacos containing grilled shrimp with pipian; mixed mushrooms with pasilla chili; and beer braised tripe with salsa de arbol.
“There are a lot of passionate chefs who are working to keep Mexican cuisine alive,” Mr. Michaels said. “What we try to do is deliver as authentic of a product that the consumer will accept. We get excited about new ingredients and flavors, but at the same time the American consumer is not ready to accept a super-hot sauce or a taco made with brain. We want to weave familiarity into what we are doing.”
Five years ago Symrise began looking into the regions of Mexico and the differences in cuisines. Since then, the flavor company has broadened its focus to include various regions in Central America, South America, Puerto Rico and parts of the Caribbean.
Flavors Mr. Michaels sees trending include garlic and citrus and the continued sophistication of spicy flavors.
“I see spicy falling into two groups — the extreme chili heads looking for the hottest thing possible and those more accepting of higher levels of heat,” he said. “Years ago a little bit of jalapeño was exciting. Now consumers are looking for higher levels of heat and more complexity of flavor.”
A cuisine Mr. Michaels is interested in exploring is Cuban. The easing of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba may open a window into authentic Cuban culinary traditions.
“Cuban cuisine has been developed against a firewall, so to speak,” he said. “Now that Cuba is opening to tourism I’m excited how that will affect culinary culture.”
He pointed to the acceptance of the Cuban sandwich in the United States and said he sees potential elsewhere.
“I think there are opportunities for snacking ideas based on Cuban sandwiches,” he said. “It is a fun way to show its progression into American food.”
Flavors he sees emerging from Cuban cuisines include African trade spices, applications with hints of cinnamon, cloves and warm spices.
“I see it as being half Caribbean and half Latino food,” Mr. Michaels said.
Fuchs North America, Owings Mills, Md., recently introduced a line of Latin American flavors. The new line features seasonings, bases and flavors that include the company’s take on Latin culinary traditions. Among the applications are seasonings and blends for snacks, meat rubs, sauces and soup bases, and more. The items are also a starting point for food manufacturers and food service companies to develop products, according to the company.
“Latin foods are becoming ever-more popular today,” said Ken Wuestenfeld, vice-president of sales and technical services for Fuchs. “Our new collection showcases the wide range of Latin and Iberian flavors, and how they’re influencing all sorts of different culinary creations.”
Seasoning blends included in the line cover a range of flavors, including chimichurri Argentino; a chipotle adobo seasoning blend; a chorizo sausage seasoning; a cracked coriander and green chili rub; an elote street corn snack seasoning; Mayan hot chocolate; spicy guacamole snack seasoning; a tomatillo seasoning; Valencia-style rice seasoning blend; and a Yucatán chicken and lime soup base.
“The American taste palette continues to expand in very exciting ways, and food companies have picked up on that trend,” Mr. Wuestenfeld said. “Latin-inspired foods are no exception. While Tex-Mex will always be popular, we’re seeing an entirely new world opening up, with all sorts of unexpected offerings that were practically unheard of just a few years ago. It’s happening because of more adventuresome eaters who are willing to try new twists and tastes on Latin themes.”
Elizabeth Lindemer, Fuchs’s corporate executive chef, worked to develop the blends.
“With our new elote street corn snack seasoning, we combine roasted corn with creamy cheese, robust chilies and zesty lime to create a unique yet authentic flavor that will jazz up any number of favorite snack items,” she said. “Likewise, people will find our spicy guacamole snack seasoning to be the perfect combination of creamy avocado, citrus, spices and chilies. It’s another way to provide a delicious flavor boost for snacks.”
Meat proteins play a central role in Latin American cuisines. Several items in the line were created to add value to a variety of proteins, according to the company. For roasted pork, the cracked coriander and green chili rub combines the aroma of coriander with the mild heat and smokiness of green chilies and a touch of lime to round it out.
“This rub pairs wonderfully with other meats as well, and it also works wonders as an addition to sides and vegetables,” Ms. Lindemer said.
The chorizo sausage seasoning features smoky and spicy peppers blended with spices, herbs and garlic.
For sauces and soup bases, the line includes four offerings, including the Yucatán chicken and lime soup base featuring the flavor of roasted chicken, citrus, savory tomatoes and garlic, along with just the heat from chilies. The chipotle adobo seasoning includes smoky chipotle peppers, tomatoes, spices and vinegar.
“It makes a great sauce to drizzle over chicken tacos as well as roasted pork, lamb and even sweet potatoes,” Ms. Lindemer said.
Patrick Laughlin, director of marketing and taste trend research for Fuchs, said the strategy behind the line is to help food manufacturers and food service operators to create new items that build on culinary traditions, but that are also unique.
“We focus on ever-evolving consumer taste preferences,” he said. “Our goal is to help food companies come up with new taste sensations they can claim as their own — offerings that are distinctively different, not ‘more of the same.’”