To claim that flavorants used in baked goods are a secondary concern in batch production would be inaccurate. Yet the focus on the flours, texturants, fats, and leavenings in discussions of bakery production seems to overwhelm all other ingredients. Yet ingredients such as malted grain syrups, cinnamon, chocolate, fruits, vanilla, spices and even flavored salts and soy sauce are what bring baked goods to life.

In sweet baked goods, fruit, chocolate, and vanilla rank as the two most popular flavors, with fruits and nuts right behind. And by far, sucrose is the sweetener of choice. This is for good reason: Comfort, popularity, and tradition are cornerstones of great bakery treats, and the standards can always be counted on to deliver. But changes

Chocolate is no longer just chocolate. Today’s take on the timeless classic incorporates dozens of types, from multiple countries of origin and with precisely delineated cacao percentages. The introduction of ruby chocolate several years ago was itself a game-changer. The sweeteners, too, used in chocolates have expanded to include erythritol, honey, monkfruit, and stevia, each presenting its own challenge if using nontraditionally sweetened chocolate in a baked product.

Vanilla is another fundamental ingredient that has gone beyond a single-word designation on a formulation. Whether whole bean, paste, extract, or powder, commonly include the specific ingredient’s terroir, as recipes call for such specifics as Madagascar or Tahitian vanilla. This has become even more acute as countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, and Uganda increase their production of the popular flavor.

Fruitful flavorants

Fruit and fruit flavors in bakery have enjoyed two trends that have only proven to be for the best. The first is authenticity. Although not gone from the scene completely, such ingredients as artificial flavorings or “mock-ups,” like apple bits stained purple with berry juice sitting in for blueberries, are increasingly rare. Consumers are avid label readers and far less likely to accept anything but the real fruit.

The second trend is the expanded offerings of fruits used in baked goods to include more exotic varieties. Whether the increased presence of fruits such as persimmons or butternut squash or different tropical fruits such as mango and passionfruit, bakers are looking beyond apples, bananas, cherries and berries and “going global” with their creativity.

Forms of fruits and produce used in baking are expanding along with variety. The ability to preserve the full flavor and nutrition of fruits and vegetables through technology such as extraction, microwave drying, and HPP (high-pressure processing) has allowed for the use of the more convenient, and cost-effective formats of dried and powdered fruits or real fruit extracts and concentrates.

“Growth in fruit and vegetable flavors will continue, especially in powder form. These can be added to bakery products such as sponge cakes and biscuits,” noted Lisa Smith, cake-maker, and owner of Ginger Bakers, Ltd., presenting in a recent panel discussion on bakery flavor trends.

Sweet swaps

Today’s consumers profess to trying to avoid sugar in their diet. Yet sugar is fundamental in sweet bakery items. A recent International Food Information Council study found that 76% of respondents were trying to limit or avoid sugars in general. That same survey found 6 in 10 respondents view added sugars negatively.

Lifestyle trends focused on healthier choices and “clean” eating, coupled with regulatory mandates and media messaging linking excessive sugar consumption to health concerns, are some of the key influencers driving the growing demand for sugar-reduction solutions.

Sugar-reduction has presented challenges in baking since sugar provides more than mere sweetness. To be successful, brands will have to find a balance between providing indulgence and great taste, while also providing desserts with an improved nutritional profile. A number of sugar alternatives on the market can help manufacturers in this pursuit.

The latest stevia sweeteners, specifically rebaudioside-M and rebaudioside-D offer improved sweetness and flavor dynamics as compared to earlier Reb A stevia options, enabling greater sugar reductions in an array of bakery applications. While stevia and monkfruit, another plant-derived sweetener about 200-300 times sweeter than sucrose, do a great job replacing sugar’s sweetness, they can’t make up for the loss of bulk or functionality.

It is possible to create reduced-sugar bakery products with almost no sensory differences, but it takes careful formulation, often combining stevia with erythritol and chicory root fiber. These bulking agents help deliver the tenderness and mouthfeel consumers expect. In many bakery applications, this trio of ingredients can successfully replace the functionality of sugar, keep cost-of-use in check, and deliver on consumer preferences.

Because of its small molecular size (about one-third that of sugar), erythritol is ideal for frozen bakery items. It provides a threefold freezing-point depression factor. That higher effect on freezing-point depression helps soften reduced-sugar ice creams, creating the scoopable texture consumers are accustomed to. It also helps replace sugar’s bulk in cakes, muffins, and scones. Take out one pound of sugar and you need to put one pound of something back in the formula. As a bulk sweetener, erythritol can fill this role, replacing sugar at a one-to-one ratio.

Naturally sweet

While sugar alternatives can easily mirror sugar’s sweet taste no single ingredient can duplicate all of sugar’s functional roles. But one sucrose alternative that is becoming a game changer comes as close to sucrose in performance and flavor as possible. Allulose, a form of sugar similar chemically to fructose, is an ultra-low sugar found naturally in beets, wheat, jackfruit, and figs. Allulose provides the bulk and browning of sucrose. Allulose does have a higher hygroscopy than sucrose and so liquid content in a formulation might need to be adjusted slightly.

Gram-for-gram allulose has approximately 90% fewer calories than sugar. Most notably it has the bulk and functionality of sucrose and can be used to reduce or replace it in a variety of baked goods. While it is believed to provide only 70% of the sweetness as sucrose, allulose seems to be able to slightly enhance the flavors most commonly appearing in baked goods—fruit and chocolate. However, in formulations that might need a slight sweetness boost, allulose works well combined with monkfruit or stevia.

Malted grain syrup is another sugar alternative, ideal for using in yeast breads, bagels, muffins, and quick breads that need added richness. Malted grain syrups are made in a procedure that starts by sprouting the grain and ends by heating the sprouts slowly in brewing vats. Malted grain syrups are a whole-grain sweetener and about half as sweet as refined sugar, with a consistency and flavor akin to molasses.

When replacing sugar with grain syrups in baked goods, the quantity will be increased by a third. Additional formula adjustments to liquid ratios also are required. In yeast breads and quick breads, where only small quantities are being used, reformulation of liquids might not be required. However, in items such as muffins and tea cakes, overall liquid ratios will need to be decreased by a quarter to compensate for the added moisture content of the grain syrup.

One of the benefits of using a malted grain syrup in baking is that it acts as a flavor and color enhancer, giving more depth to such rich and flavorful goods as pumpernickel loaves, pancakes, rye and wheat breads. Malted grain syrups can come from wheat, rye, barley, oats, and other grains. They are available in a full range of colors, from pale gold to deep brown. Those grain syrups from wheat and wheat relatives do contain gluten, however.

Spicy and savory, separate and together

“Combining traditional sweets along with savory ingredients has definitely become popular,” says Ginger Bakers’ Lisa Smith. “It’s more common than ever to see items with flavor combinations such as lemon and rosemary drizzle cakes or scones filled with cardamom-infused cream.”

While salted caramel and salted chocolate are still popular, another option bakers are turning to for savory enhancement is smoked and infused salts. A combination of wood-smoked salt such as hickory and maple syrup, for example, can recreate a bacon-like flavor in a vegan, clean-label cornbread or scone formulation. Or a small amount of an espresso-infused salt can enhance the richness a sweet coffee flavored pastry.

Sweet-savory flavor profiles from Asian countries also are big news. Japanese bakers, long known for experimenting with some unusual flavor combinations, have launched such items as black vinegar cupcakes filled with yuzu curd and apricot-wasabi muffins.

Soy sauce has made its way into a variety of baked goods, including sweet items. Essence of soy sauce pairs well with banana, coconut, browned butter, and even milk chocolate. The trick for any developers experimenting with soy sauce as a companion to sweet flavors is in choosing the right form of soy sauce—powdered/granulated, concentrated, or standard—and the right strength and color, which can range from pale gold to ebony.

Spice is nice

In the world of spice, blends are ever-changing. But a few spices and herbs seem to be at the forefront of late. “2020 became the year that everyone discovered lavender, mostly due to its calming properties,” notes food blogger Katie Machado. “When used in small quantities, the flavor of lavender is floral and sweet, but too much can turn the flavor intense and soapy. Cheryl Lew, baking and pastry instructor at Laney College, Oakland, recommends sugar cookies and hot cross buns as excellent vehicles for lavender.

Global baking flavors often include flowers and spices. Rose and orange blossom have been included in Persian and Indian baking for centuries. Spice blends of this region, recently popular in the US, are also sliding into baked goods. For example, garam masala—the Indian spice blend consisting of cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, and pepper, and turmeric—is making appearances in baked items.

“Pumpkin spice just doesn’t excite consumers the way it used to,” says Sheela Prakash, baking expert at “Garam masala is a Hindi phrase that literally means ‘warm spice’. I use it in all kinds of baked goods, including apple crisp, pumpkin pie, muffin batters, and cookies. It tastes comforting and warming, and is much more versatile than your basic spice blends, having the signature comfort notes from cinnamon and cardamom, but with a spicy backbone.”

Garam masala can work well in a rich devil’s food cake or buttery pound cake. It also works well when swapped for the basic spices in classics like pumpkin pie and banana bread. “With more consumers tapping into what bakers are up to in every corner of the world, palates are becoming more sophisticated and eaters more adventurous,” Lew states.

Regular contributor Marisa Churchill is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and studied advanced pastry skills at the Culinary Institute of America. She has worked in some of California’s top restaurants and appeared in a number of Food Network shows. Churchill currently consults on recipe and product development for multiple food companies and is the author of My Sweet & Skinny Life (Patakis, 2015) and Sweet & Skinny (Clarkson Potter, 2011). Find more of her articles at She can be contacted at

Better than sweet 

According to Euromonitor, chocolate confections were worth over $100B in global retail sales in 2020 and it continues to grow. Since the recognition that cacao beans are loaded with heart-healthy antioxidants, one of the biggest trends in chocolate has been the marketing of “better-for-you” options. Examples run the gamut from the increased use of dark chocolate in baked goods (the darker the chocolate, the more concentrated the antioxidants) to the inclusion of chocolate fortified with protein or botanicals such as turmeric or cannabinoids. The next chocolate cupcakes to hit the market might just include ingredients for better eyesight or cognitive function.

Better baking

The “better-for-you” movement has brought a resurgence of heirloom grains and artisanal flours to today’s baked goods. Ancient grains, such as millet, spelt, and kamut, and flours from seeds like chia and quinoa, are being incorporated into baked goods as an alternative to wheat flour. These ancient grains are giving healthy and richly flavorful twists to breads, cakes, scones, and even pies and bagels.