Flavor trends are cyclical in nature. In times of economic uncertainty consumers yearn for the familiar. While companies are still exploring trendy flavors based on superfruits and other exotics, consumers find comfort in staples, such as vanilla and chocolate. Traditional custards and fruits, such as apple and blueberry, also are filling pastries and pies across America.
According to Flavor Trends, a study published in September 2008 by Frost & Sullivan, “emotions are playing a vital role in flavor choices.” While consumers' emotions might be drawing them to familiar childhood flavors, other factors are involved. The increasing ethnic diversity in the United States and consumers' sophisticated flavor palates create opportunities for familiar flavors with a twist. Some examples of this as cited in the Frost & Sullivan study include white chocolate with cranberries or Tahitian vanilla with honey.
Flavor companies also report increased interest in combination flavors. GSB & Associates, Inc., Kennesaw, Ga., often receives requests for fusion flavors that combine a bit of exotic appeal with a familiar favorite, such as white chocolate strawberry, raspberry rose, or a holiday cranberry chestnut, says Olivia Noland, marketing manager.
America's shifting demographics also impacts flavor development. A traditional food therefore can present a significantly different flavor profile depending upon the ethnic origin of the consumer. Nostalgia might mean Asiago bread to one and a vanilla cupcake to another.
Not just plain vanilla
Vanilla is a retro trend, or comfort food flavor, notes Dan Fox, sales manager, Nielsen Massey Vanilla, Waukegan, Ill. “I tell people to close their eyes, think of their grandmother's kitchen and the soft, creamy smell they remember as vanilla,” he says. That's Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, which is especially suited to rich foods such as ice cream and buttercream. Also of interest is Tahitian vanilla with its floral, almost cherry-like aroma. “It is completely unique, but extended baking times and temperatures will diminish the flavor's delicate nuances,” he adds.
Vanilla helps enhance other flavors, including rounding out the harsh, bitter notes common to some chocolate applications. It also can enhance fruit flavors and sweetness, while reducing some tartness. For instance, pure vanilla helps cut the acidity level of fruit preps, especially highly acidic superfruits, such as açaí or pomegranate, without detracting from their functionality.
Independent tests demonstrate that consumers trying a product with and without vanilla would perceive the one with vanilla as sweeter. Reduced calorie or reduced sugar products benefit from the addition of vanilla to enhance the sweetness perception.
Bakers can use pure vanilla extract in products processed at lower temperatures, such as cakes, which rarely exceed 210°F internally. The aromatic components within vanilla extract are volatile at temperatures above 280°F. Cookies baked at higher temperatures burn off the flavor volatiles, which is why cookies are so aromatic during baking. Vanillin extracts or artificial flavors usually are used for baking applications, or a stronger, two-fold extract to retain the volatile components.
Chocolate's comfort appeal
Another flavor that never says die is chocolate. “While chocolate and cocoa items are definitely seen as a comfort food, in some cases they are better described as affordable luxuries,” says Adam Lechter, product services and development manager, ADM Cocoa, Milwaukee.
Cocoas are used in cookies, cakes, donuts, fillings and coatings. The whole range of cocoa powders from natural cocoa to highly alkalized cocoa powders are used in bakeries, depending on the application and the desired final appearance and flavor profile. Alkalized cocoas will deliver darker color and more intense cocoa flavor.
With its popularity and ability to blend well with other flavors, chocolate serves as an ideal medium for innovative flavor combinations. Sweet heat combination flavors are an increasingly popular flavor trend. For example, GSB & Associates offers a chocolate chipotle flavor that can be applied to chocolate sauce and icing.
Trendy superfruit flavors
Traditional might be back in style, but superfruits and exotics continue making market impressions. Açaí, mangosteen, dragonfruit and Goji flavors are enticing, but also highly volatile in nature and flash off during baking. Superfruit flavors work best in icings or toppings that do not require heating, says Eugene Buday, president, GSB & Associates. Used in an icing or a glaze, a superfruit flavor can offer exotic appeal without heavily impacting the price point of the finished item, as opposed to a pie filling, which needs to incorporate a higher level of real fruit flavors and fruit particulates.
The fat used for icings containing superfruit flavors should be as bland in flavor and aroma as possible in order for the fruit flavors to come through. An oil-soluble flavor should be used for icings with a high fat content and a water-soluble flavor should be selected for lower fat content icings. Generally speaking, when other flavor ingredients are used, such as fruit or nut bits, it is best to use a flavor that enhances these other ingredients and isn't overbearing.
Dairy flavors make an impact
Butter flavors also can bring the taste of home to high-volume bakery products. “We've had multiple requests for flavor profiles, such as browned butter, that bring the homemade appeal into a prepared food,” says Laura Hartnett, technical solutions manager, Edlong Dairy Flavors, Elk Grove Village, Ill.
With tight margins and fluctuating dairy commodity costs, flavors can reduce or replace butter and cream, while imparting the essence of those ingredients and reducing costs. Butter flavors offer heat stability, and bakers can use less of the flavor than they would the actual ingredient and provide a greater flavor impact in the application. In addition, using butter flavors helps offer greater heat stability and prolongs shelf life by reducing the possibility of rancidity.
Butter flavors offer an excellent opportunity to appeal to various ethnic markets. Since butters are regional in type and demand, butter flavors allow food manufacturers greater flexibility in capturing regional flavors without sourcing issues. “For customers from the Middle East or Latin America, the butter has a more fruity character while the U.S. market is used to a more melted type of profile. A manufacturer can appeal to these markets by taking the same application and adjusting the flavors,” Hartnett says.
Regional flavors don't just apply to butter. Hartnett indicates that artisan cheese flavors are more popular than ever; bleu, asiago and Parmesan are in particulalry high demand. “As restaurant dining has declined, we see our customers helping recreate that chef quality, dining experience taste at home,” Hartnett says.
Market drivers of flavors
Another factor driving the flavor market for bakery fillings is a clean label deck. Major supermarket bakeries are driving a clean label push for their customers and this impacts the types of ingredients used in icing or filling processing, says Paul Barrett, product development manager, Skjodt-Barrett Foods Inc., Missassauga, Ontario.
As consumers' palates become more sophisticated, they demand more complex flavor combinations. Eli's Cheesecake, Chicago, for example, introduced Couture, an upscale line that introduces sophisticated flavors to cheesecake, such as a true Key lime paired with coconut, cardamom with local honey or blackberry with crème fraîche to balance the berry's acidity. Local and regional flavors also are driving demand. Eli's Cheesecake buys fresh, regional fruits from local growers and processes the fruit in house. “We'll order Ida Red apples and peel them no more than 24 hours before use, no bucket apples for us,” says Jolene Worthington, executive vice president, operations. “That's the true beginning of flavor.”
During tough economic times, local, comfort food inspired flavors, sometimes blended with a fresh twist, satisfy consumers yearning for the familiar, while providing options for more sophisticated palates. At the same time, flavors also give bakers an economic alternative for costly ingredients that are difficult to source, providing a win-win solution for everyone.