The Future of Flavor
Looking ahead to tomorrow's tantalizing tastes
Describing food as the quintessential meeting of personal with communal, food guru Dotty Griffith notes how food choices mirror more than societal norms and traditions, they reflect cultural synergies and changing lifestyles. With that in mind, as we enter the third decade of the 21st century, Griffith takes a look ahead to find attitudes and lifestyles that influence food choices and some of the flavors, ingredients, technologies, and styles that will manifest in 2020 and beyond.
The flavor forecast calls for even hotter days ahead. Chili peppers by name will continue to get attention. Consumers want to know what kind of hot, not just how hot. Some of these unique peppers include sansho, aji, aleppo, pasilla, chilaca, and guajillo peppers.
Superhots, such as Trinidad Scorpion and Carolina Reaper, will continue to burn a path in the world of prepared foods. And the increasingly popular Japanese shishito peppers are going to continue their climb on the charts, especially as a main component in Shichi-mi tō garashi, the Japanese spice blend that also includes dried orange or yuzu peel, sesame, ginger, hemp seed, nori, and poppy.
Check out our December 2019 issue for more food & beverage predictions!
Flavors coming in from South Asia, South America, Africa (not just North Africa but Ethiopia but Sub-Sahara, too), and the Middle East will continue to trend. Look for increased appearances by cardamom, caraway, and coriander, plus big upticks in the use of sumac (a favorite of Persian cuisine) and star anise. And turmeric hasn’t peaked yet, so expect more use of this trendy healthful spice.
Still “In”: Gochujang and sriracha are now mainstream, and harissa, ras el hanout, and berbere (Ethiopian spice blend) continue to gain ground. But keep an eye – and palate – out for and Chinese fermented black beans, carob, and the chocolate cousin cupuaçu to come into the limelight. Exotic mushrooms continue to attract attention for both flavor and medicinal properties, and the same can be said for obscure fruits from the Amazon, such as feijoa and camu-camu.
Crystals and powders will bring color and flavor to snacks. Popcorn, chips, and crackers dusted with everything from forest green basil and olive oil powder to tomato powder or stronger flavors of stout, bourbon, and yeast extract. Fennel pollen — popular among chefs for a brief period — could be poised to provide its burst of heady flavor in crackers and chips too.
Among the biggest trends in sprinkled-on flavor will be smoked and infused sea salts. A new generation of smoked sea salts just launched, with greater focus on the process (“cold” friction smoking for richer yet subtler flavor) and the type of wood used (alder, apple, chardonnay oak, hickory, mesquite). These naturally flavored smoked salts plus sea salts infused with herbs (such as rosemary), habanero peppers, and even red wine are benefitting from technology that promises consistency of flavor and performance and allows culinarians and processors greater control over the flavors these ingredients impart.
Edible glitter, confetti, and sprinkles will still amaze. Beverages seem to be where they are turning up the most. And speaking of beverages, the growing divide between those who enjoy alcohol drinks and those who prefer to abstain has mixologists crafting ever more creative mocktails and shots. Effervescence will play a primary role in giving the impression of booziness, as will stronger flavors of herb, spice, and flowers.
Tea flavors are the latest to combine with alcohol to give a bit of a buzz, following in the footsteps of last year’s hard seltzer trend. Flowery flourishes of flavors will come from florals, as such ingredients as elderberry, honeysuckle, rose, and lavender continue their expansion in the beverage space and branch out into in sauces and snacks, too.
Fun textures, too, will put on airs in snacks as popped and crunchy nibbles move beyond “just vegetables and fruits.” Air-fried bean, lentil, and chickpea crisps, and crispy cheese will be joined by meatier/umami-er crunchies of beef, chicken, and mushroom puffs.
A new wave of exotic ingredients and new techniques for bringing the best out of them has the 2020s shaping up to be the most flavorful decade yet. Global and ethnic mergers on the culinary side are ramping up and product developers are throwing caution to the past as they look toward the future of flavor with greater excitement than ever. When it comes to food and flavor, it’s easy to believe that nothing’s off the table.