Step into the world of flavors and you are embarking on a journey that will tempt you with the taste of fresh fruits and vegetables, grilled meats, exotic fare and more.

Through the years, flavor science has evolved, making it possible for suppliers to offer product developers a diverse world of flavors. Flavors have become more refined, authentic-tasting and sophisticated.

This brief tour of the flavor world will point out some of the specific flavors that consumers crave, from the sweet flavor of vanilla and warm notes of toasted spices, to the spicy profiles of Latin and Floribbean cuisine.

Sweet Successes

It is not unusual to hear people say they are craving something sweet. But what exactly do consumers want? Their taste preferences may very well depend on the type of sweet product.

“In sweet baked goods and ice cream, flavors such as vanilla, cinnamon, custard and flavors with cooked milk notes have staying power among consumers,” says Janet Schurig, director of applications, Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, N.Y. Dulce de leche is one flavor that continues to garner consumer demand, and may soon join the ranks of the other mainstays. Making its appearance first in ice cream, dulce de leche now adds warmth to cakes, whipped toppings, fillings for truffles and ice cream toppings. Edy's Grand Ice Cream's, Oakland, Calif. dulce de leche—flavored product is pictured on this month's cover.

“Brown flavors of all kinds, such as butterscotch, toffee, caramel and maple, continue to grow in usage and preference in sweet good products,” observes Anton Angelich, vice president, sweet goods, Haarmann & Reimer, Teterboro, N.J. In addition, the company's work with consumers in the area of energy bars and handheld snacks indicates that indulgent or dessert-type flavors are preferred in these products.

Angelich adds that consumer product companies continue to search for better peanut and peanut butter flavors. “It is the continuing search for the 'Holy Grail.' However, advances in synthesis and extraction of new and better-flavored raw materials have allowed for the accelerated development of sensorially-improved flavors,” he says.

In confectionery, fruit and citrus flavors always are winners among consumers of any age. Orange, lemon and lime remain popular, says Schurig. “The real trend is playing with the amount of acid in a flavor, yielding a high intensity sour candy. Consumers also want more fruit flavors—like cherry and grape—that are juicier and taste refreshing,” she adds.

“We also see flavors in one application being added to an entirely different application,” notes Paulette Kerner, director of marketing communications, Virginia Dare. Products like this include cotton candy-flavored bubble gum and bubble gum-flavored toothpaste.

In the kids snack market, expect to see an increase in color changing/mouth sensation types of candy and “extreme” snacks, says Abe Sendros, market research analyst, McCormick Flavors, Hunt Valley, Md. Recent introductions include Chupa Chups X-Treme Sour, extremely sour lollipops with bubble gum centers. The intensely flavored lollipops offered by Day Spring Enterprises, Buffalo, NY. (seen on this month's cover), provides another example.

“Raspberry and blueberry flavored products are increasing in popularity—raspberry, especially, among children,” says Angelich. Also, he adds, there is a growing consumer interest in cleaner, healthier types of fruits and their counterparts, such as melon, nectarine, plum, apricot and grapefruit. “There is probably some retreat from new, exotic tropical flavors. Mango, kiwi and papaya have been around for a while now. There are not a lot of new or significant introductions for exotic tropical fruits or fruit-containing flavored products.”

Citrus flavors in beverages find consumer favor, and flavor science continues to improve on these. There are improved extraction techniques to separate the hydrocarbons from citrus flavors, says Andrew Blum, director of citrus research, Haarmann & Reimer. Hydrocarbon degradation ultimately affects flavor stability.

Citral degradation is another research area. In citrus flavors, citral degradation results in off-flavors and different flavor profiles, explains John Cavallo, vice president, beverage business unit, Haarmann & Reimer. Research is looking at two areas: reducing the rate of citral degradation and finding other flavors to enhance the fresh flavor profile of a beverage as citral degrades. For example, a lemon-flavored beverage tastes fresh when it is first made. As it ages, the citral degrades, and the flavor profile changes. Research is looking at what flavor will complement or enhance the beverage to keep the fresh lemon profile.

Comfort foods may well increase demand for savory flavors.

Savor the Bold Flavor

Savory flavors encompass cheese, meat, vegetable and herbal profiles. When it comes to savory, consumers want multidimensional flavors that excite the taste buds. This can be achieved through flavor combinations, flavor layering and cooking techniques.

Combining sweet and savory profiles creates multidimensional flavors. A fruit-sweet, herb-savory blend can be created from a combination of the following: apricot, pear, apple, pineapple, peach, cherry, lime, lemon, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice and clove, says Kathleen Doran, new business development manager, savory flavor division, Haarmann & Reimer.

Layering flavors creates unique bold profiles, such as sweet-heat (pairing a sweet and spicy flavor). The sweet flavors complement the heat, so a spicy dish can be enjoyed without too much intensity. Popular sweet flavors include vanilla, honey, fruits, maple and coconut milk. These can be paired with spicy flavors such as red pepper, chile, peppercorn, ginger and mustard.

Layering flavors creates unique bold profiles, such as sweet-heat (pairing a sweet and spicy flavor).
Role-reversal of spices is another way to layer flavors. According to McCormick Flavors, this is created when typical dessert spices enter main courses, such as cinnamon or vanilla in a southwestern cinnamon steak rub. Main course herbs such as basil, rosemary and thyme, add a twist to desserts in products such as basil berry sorbet or rosemary lemon poundcake.

Another trend in the savory category is high flavor. “Everyone is trying to infuse more flavor into every bite. This can be achieved through some cooking methods/techniques such as marinades, rubs, cures, brines, stocks, reductions, foams, slow roasting and toasting,” says Sendros.

According to the chefs of the McCormick Flavor Council, toasting spices enhances the flavor sensation, as heat helps spices release volatile oils. Some spices that toast especially well include chili powder, coriander, cumin, curry powder, dill seed, fennel seed, sesame seed and white peppercorn.

Other cooking techniques contribute different savory profiles. Grilling adds seared and caramelized notes, while roasting enhances the juiciness and savoriness of flavors. Roasted and smoked notes add depth to tomato, garlic, onion and red and green bell peppers, says Doran. These flavors will enhance the profiles of vegetarian and poultry products.

Due to the recent world events, there has and will continue to be an increase of comfort food consumption, observes Sendros. Foods like potato chips, fried chicken, pot roast, apple pie and ice cream are all-American classics and are sure to increase in popularity. Savory flavors can add to the warmth and comfort of these foods.

A Global Tour

Although consumers will seek more comfort foods, do not expect ethnic flavors to lose any ground. Savory and bold flavors can be found in popular cuisine, such as Thai and Latin food. Popular Latin flavors, says Sendros, include tamarind, chile pepper and grapefruit. “Latin flavors are going to explode, not just in restaurants, but in consumer products, such as meal kits, drinks, seasonings and snacks,” he says.

Latin-infused flavors were popular at the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association's 2001 show. Mango flavor added life to candies, drinks and salsa. Lime added a splash of sourness to margaritas and mayos. Jalapenos were found in products such as bratwurst. A Mexican-spiced bratwurst from Cher-Make, Manitowoc, Wisc., called Zesty-Fiesta Bratwurst, featured pepper jack cheeses and jalapeno peppers.

Another increasingly popular cuisine, says Sendros, is Floribbean. “Floribbean cooking combines the distinct tastes of coconut, mango, peppers, bananas, plantains, fruits, nuts and curries into a cuisine that blends a mix of taste both subtle and striking.” Some typical Floribbean dishes are coconut curried sea bass with mango, spinach slaw and caramelized bananas, red snapper with habanero mango barbecue sauce and sweet potato puree, and pepper-seared yellowfin tuna with warm fennel salad and carrot ginger broth.

Our tour of some of the rising stars in the flavor world has come to an end. From the sweet, to the bold and the heat, consumers will find there are multitudes of flavors to tantalize.

Sidebar: Beverages Leverage Flavors

Although flavor is crucial to all food products, consumers particularly look to beverages for a “flavorful” experience. Beverages often highlight trends in the food industry's use of familiar flavors, such as fruit or those found in desserts. However, beverage formulators and marketers also are freer to explore truly cutting edge “fantasy flavors,” or to work flavoring systems around key ingredients. For example, consumers expect lime pie to taste like limes, but they likely have less expectations with AquaLife's, Richmond, Va., new Hyper Active Calamansi drink with CoQ10. (Calamansi is a lime-like fruit.)

“We're seeing a lot of fruit flavors, tropical in particular, in newly introduced beverages,” says Lynn Dornblaser, editorial director, with Mintel International's GNPD. “Herbs with fruit flavors, especially in energy drinks, are also popular.” She additionally reports a “thumbs up” for grapefruit, which she sees as being driven by Ocean Spray.

A search of Mintel's GNPD (Global New Product Database) yields hard statistics when the beverage category (North America only) is searched, using specific terms. Results reflect flavoring use and product line extensions (e.g., green tea). — Claudia D. O'Donnell, Chief Editor