Prepared Foods talks with Chef Rob Corliss, owner of All Things Epicurean (ATE), a culinary consulting company in Nixa, Mo. ATE specializes in flavor innovation through menu and recipe development for restaurants, manufacturers and commodity boards nationwide. Chef Corliss is a three-time James Beard House guest chef and a 1988 cum laude graduate from Johnson & Wales.
Prepared Foods: We’re looking at creative ways to add new and distinctive “crunch” to foods. What comes to mind in terms of menu trends?
Chef Rob Corliss: Three of the biggest macro lifestyle trends of 2017 (and moving forward) are clean label, plant-based eating and craveable wellness. The correlation with adding “crunch” to foods is delivering on the clean and natural aspects of food when crafting a crunch application. Simple, recognizable ingredient statements and crunch foods with a story will resonate with todays’ consumer. Take note of the shift towards plant-based eating and craveable wellness, as that momentum will bring more and more opportunities to provide crunch via exciting ingredients and new techniques.
Menu trends have always included crunch just perhaps, not in a featured “call out” manner, like we are seeing today. Crunch/texture is one of the building blocks of flavor and chefs continue to artfully craft texture as part of the overall appeal of successful product launches.
Crunch, much like flavor, is a layered experience. Crunch can be executed externally, internally or via a combination of the two. It also can be subtle or act as a dominant note, with both serving an integral purpose. The sound of crunch acts much like aroma does for food. The crisp snapping sound of a hand-held food when we break apart pieces with our fingers or the echoing internal crunchy sound that textured foods create within our mouth—all cue our tastebuds for a pleasurable experience that we want to repeat.
PF: What have you seen or learned during past year, regarding new approaches to crunch in coatings?
Corliss: As mentioned, I believe that captivating coatings provide visual crunch cues that set the anticipation of flavor.
Coatings have evolved to highlight an unprocessed, organic look. Batters and breadings seem lighter yet with amplified crunch, nuts and seeds are combined with on trend spices/seasonings/herbs, glazes add thin layers of crunch and fruit and vegetable powders are being blended into coatings for both color and big flavor. Overall topical applications continue to delight.
Here are just some new, on-trend ingredient applications:
- Vegetables (dehydrated, chips) – mushrooms, garlic, beets, sweet potato
- Fruit (chips, shaved) – apple, mango, coconut flakes
- Spices (rustic grind) – hibiscus, peppercorns, Sichuan peppercorns, Maldon salt flakes
- Nuts (chop, slice, sliver, meal, butter)– natural or flavored
- Seeds (whole or pulsed) – chia, hemp, sesame, flax, pepitas, sunflower kernels
- Puffed grains – quinoa, sorghum, brown rice
Overall, we see that inclusions with functional and nutritional benefits continue to make an impact, as “better for you” ingredients in general are driving food development.
Inclusions seem to be following the trend path of flavors in general. Savory, sour, spicy, bitter, umami, floral and salty lead the way with sweet profiles taking a backseat.
PF: Let’s take a closer look at those ingredients and a chef’s toolbox. What are interesting ways to add external crunch?
Corliss: Sure. Here are three ideas.
- Flavor a nut with a nut – Utilize the crunch coating as a call out for the star ingredient that is waiting inside. Visible chunks of nuts on the outside of a whole flavored nut, double down on the appeal of that ingredient. Incorporate rustic, ground nuts into the flavored coating of a whole roasted/glazed nut for a pebbled look.
- Make crunch the star – A vivid external crunch application lets our palate (and mind) know that this food experience is all about the crunch. Use shards of a fun brittle, oversized chunks of granola, seed mixtures or attention-grabbing particulates to evoke that initial sensory appeal.
- Embrace non-conformity – Feature irregular, naturally textured shapes on bars, mini snack bites and flavored whole roasted nuts. The rustic, “less processed” look denotes authenticity and a hand crafted execution. Incorporate particulates into batters/breadings for additional crunch appeal.
PF: Ok, how about adding crunch on the inside?
Corliss: There also are several creative ways to add internal crunch. Here, again, are just a few ideas.
- Complement natural with value added – Pair crunch ingredients in their natural state (nuts, seeds, dried berries, dried chickpeas, cacao nibs, herbs, etc.) with value added crunch ingredients (smoked, preserved, fermented & flavored). Use this complementary texture & flavor appeal, as an inclusion throughout your product.
- Surprise with the unexpected – Flip the script and create a soft outer coating enrobing a crunchy inner core of flavor.
- Diversify the forms – Use a combination of whole, sliced, slivered, shredded & chopped crunch ingredients within a single food product.
PF: Last but not least, what if we combined the two subjects—for creative crunch both outside and inside?
Corliss: No problem. I’ve thought about that too. Here are some suggestions.
- Create intrigue throughout – Amplify both flavor and texture with bold hits of each throughout every bite. A combination of soft & chewy and/or creamy paired with a signature crunch is proven to resonate with consumer tastes.
- Global Cues – On-trend global flavors and ingredients provide opportunity in crunch product formulation. Take a mainstream classic and add a complementary global spin to it. Nut butters are prime for innovation and unique textures & flavors.
- Thin is the new thick – Thin snack foods, with highly visible textures, immediately denote crunch…much like we are seeing with “barks and thins.” These offerings deliver an external/internal crunch within one bite.
PF: Thanks for your time and so many interesting ideas! Last question. Can you share a related new product example involving crunch, something noteworthy you’ve developed?
Corliss: This year, ATE worked with the Almond Board of California on product demonstrations and samples for the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual IFT Expo. We created a Togarashi Nori Almond Crunch. Evolving consumer palates are pushing manufactures for new and unexpected snack combinations with nuts, seeds and unique spices, which this concept delivers on.
This was a premium snack with an on-trend Asian inspired flavor profile. The concept showcases almond crunch, in three ways in one plant-based application: whole blanched almonds, blanched slivered almonds and natural sliced almonds.
Here’s how I described the snack: “Unexpected snack addictions are the best discovery in life. Whole blanched almonds, blanched almond slivers, natural sliced almonds, bits of nori, sesame seeds, crisp puffed brown rice, togarashi, ponzu, orange and maple syrup are blended together; then baked and broken into rustic bites of sweet-savory-spicy extravagance.”
Almond clusters (and cluster type snacks in general) are trending with their signature crunch, rustic/natural appeal and flavor forward texture creations. The more you enjoy the Togarashi Nori Almond Crunch, the more you will pick up on the complexity of individual textures and flavors: salty, spicy, umami, sweetness and hints of orange.