Prepared Foods talks spice and seasoning formulation trends with Emily Munday, director of operations for CuliNex LLC, a Seattle culinary consulting and product development firm.

Prepared Foods: What were some of last year’s most interesting spice and seasoning trends? 

Emily Munday: The most interesting seasonings I saw were those that were able to effectively replicate the flavors of traditionally wet condiments and sauces—but in dry form. Examples include harissa, pickled jalapeno, Kalamata olive, cured lemon, kimchi and koji. Translating complex flavors from traditional pickled, cured, fermented or long-cooked ingredients—into dry seasonings that still carry the same flavor impact—is difficult to execute successfully, but delicious when done right. 

PF: How about spices in distinctive new product applications. What stands out to you?

Munday: The snacking trend is certainly snowballing, as the line blurs between snacks and meals, especially for Millennials. Bold flavors—traditionally seen in ethnic dishes—are permeating the world of snacks. This is particularly true for bland items things like chips, crisps, crackers, and puffed or extruded snacks made from alternative ingredients like nuts, seeds, legumes, and vegetables. Often, these all are great carriers for creative seasoning blends. 

PF: What’s a related new item you’ve developed? 

Munday: We worked on a line of snack crackers flavored with topical seasonings. The most challenging was a Kalamata Olive, Lemon, and Chile variety. It was difficult to achieve just the right heat level and the right balance of flavors so that no one ingredient took precedence. It also was particularly challenging to deliver the right olive flavor that met our client’s labeling needs. After many iterations—and working closely with spice and flavor houses—we developed a cracker that is totally craveable and delivers on the concept as envisioned. 

PF: What spice and seasoning trends do you see for 2017? 

Munday: Traditional ethnic seasoning blends are a great way for consumers to discover new flavor combinations, especially on snack items that they are already familiar with, or offered as condiments for grain bowls and vegetables. 

I’ve been following Japanese shichimi togarashi, a dynamic mix of red chile peppers, tangerine or orange zest, seeds (such as sesame, hemp and poppy seed), nori flakes, and spices, such as ground ginger and garlic. This blend is particularly delicious on vegetables. Another personal favorite is za’atar, a Middle Easter herbaceous blend of thyme, oregano, savory, lemony sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt. It’s perfect on grilled flatbreads, and as a finishing condiment on chicken, fish, or vegetables.

Baharat, an Egyptian spice blend, may very well be the new curry. It’s an aromatic mix of sweet spices like allspice, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, cumin—with a kick from black pepper and red chiles. Ras ah hanout, also from northern Africa, consists of cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, mace and fenugreek, along with ginger, garlic, turmeric and other interesting ingredients such as rosebuds and grains of paradise. These flavors may be old news in their respective countries, but are refreshing flavor combos that most Americans haven’t experienced yet. 

PF: How about trends involving specialty salts?

Munday: Five to 10 years ago, the industry was abuzz with concern over sodium and many companies reformulated products to remove excess salt or replace with salt alternatives. Today, the trend seems to be going the other way, with chefs driving interest in specialty salts, specifically regional varieties from around the world with unique flavors due to mineral content. 

Red and pink salts from Hawaii, Himalaya, Bali and Bolivia are really interesting; as are grey and black salts from Hawaii and France; and even smoked varieties made from different hardwoods. Varying sizes of chunks, flakes and granules are available and these affect texture and flavor perception. They add interest to a variety of applications, especially finishing salts and seasonings blends. I love using big crunchy flakes of sea salt on crackers and crisps, but also on sweet baked goods like cookies and brownies.