Prepared Foods talks savory flavor trends with Samantha Brown, innovation manager for foodservice new product development at Smithfield Foods Inc., Smithfield, Va. Brown is a classically trained chef with 16 years of foodservice experience. In 2010, she hosted a “Farm-to-Table” segment with Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Last year, she earned distinction as a certified culinary scientist (CCS) with the Research Chefs Association.

Prepared Foods: How have savory flavors changed in the past five to 10 years?

Samantha Brown: Consumer palates are becoming more adventurous and they are increasingly demanding for more complex flavors. I started in the protein business six years ago and since then, there has been a surge in developing products with specific trending flavors like Sriracha, chili peppers, heat/spicy, bacon, and bourbon.  

Increased consumer demand for “all natural” ingredients has become top of mind for savory flavor developers.  Another change involves us being more attentive and thoughtful about concerns of allergens, gluten, and sodium content.

Reaction flavors or “cooking cues”—like fire roasted, braised, wood grilled, caramelized, or smoked—also have increased in usage. They deliver a consistent authentic savory flavor that you could not replicate otherwise in the process.  A singular profile can no longer be our target.  Take, for example, a pineapple flavored ham, which is classic sweet and savory combination. By adding a reaction flavor, such as “caramelized” and then adding a heat element, we now can create a Spicy Caramelized Pineapple ham made with all natural ingredients. This makes the product more relevant for today.  

PF: Have you seen anything recently on a restaurant menu that inspired you because of its savory flavor appeal?

Brown: Absolutely! I am immediately interested every time I see pork belly on a menu.  Mainly because it is such a great item to showcase and can elevate any type of cuisine or savory flavor profile. I also say that because it is such a versatile product and I cannot wait to see how it is prepared by the chef. 

PF: What have you learned about working with savory flavors that you didn’t know a year ago?

Brown: It seems that there is some sort of ethnic flavor or component each year that we did not know about the previous year; for example, the umami-laden koji.  The year before that, it was gochujang.  

PF: What would you tell other chefs about how best to capture and carry a savory flavor through R&D, operations and distribution—and into a finished prepared product?

Brown: I think this question is best answered using a quote from Noramay Cadena: “Be stubborn on the vision and flexible on the journey.”

Originally appeared in the January, 2017 issue of Prepared Foods as FIRST PERSON.