Bitter Flavors

According to Mintel, the new age “foodie” movement has shifted from a small group of niche consumers and restaurants to nearly three quarters of all American adults admitting they are interested in food and food culture. As this understanding grows, so does the search for new flavors and authentically regional preparations. The flavor profile we call bitterness often conjures up images of burnt food, fouled up preparations, or otherwise unappetizing flavors. Yet the reality is bitterness adds elements of sophistication that appeal to the palate, and when balanced properly, are very appealing and punctuate a dish, elevating the other flavor components.

The bitter profile is a result of chemical compounds known as phenols, flavonoids, terpines, and other in the same class. From nature’s perspective, they are a protection mechanism designed to guarantee a plants survival. What we have found through research is that foods rich in these compounds - phenol-rich berries, tea and chocolate, or those full of flavonoids, like citrus, tea and wine — are often the most health-sustaining. For chefs who are reaching toward bitter greens, colorful fruits, and root vegetables to get more “good for you” on the menu, momentum is growing. The Cheesecake Factory for example recently released their SkinnyLicious menu, featuring a number of salad recipes whose key ingredient is some bitter component that the dish “would not be complete without,” according to their executive chef Bob Okura.

While consumer demand for new and interesting flavor profiles can be challenging to product developers, it also offers an abundance of opportunities. Having a unique flavor is a great way to differentiate a product from the competition. “Americans do not seek out bitter,” says Rich Collins, president of California Vegetable Specialties, but when paired with the right ingredients or cooking techniques it is very well received. When properly incorporated, diners get excited about the nuances and sophistication that accompanies a bitter flavor, feeling less generic and more exciting.

Matcha

What is the deal with all this matcha? A question many people are asking themselves as matcha leapt from the cup to the plate in 2014, shining the spotlight on this traditional style of ground Japanese tea. Matcha does not have a brief history. In fact, it has been used for centuries by Buddhist monks and Samurai warriors to prepare for meditation and improve mental clarity. This is possible thanks to the brain boosting and stress reducing combination of antioxidants, amino acids, and extraneous health benefits it contains. Matcha differs from traditional tea in one way; the entire leaf is powdered and consumed, instead of traditional tea where a bag is steeped, leaving most of the “good stuff” behind in the bag to be thrown away. This one difference means huge retention in natural nutrient content, and the big bonus with matcha is that it can be used in everything from soups, pastries, dressings, marinades, and anything really where the addition of a powder will not harm the recipe. One could compare it to whey powder in that there are similar qualities, but matcha comes with a far more targeted benefits and a higher concentration of comparable attributes. “There will be renewed interest in matcha, which offers more potent nutrition than in regular green tea because one consumes the ground tea leaf, not just the steeped liquid,” explains Kara Nielsen, Culinary Director at the Sterling Rice Group. Nielsen continues to say that we should “expect to see renewed interest in matcha lattes and matcha in smoothies and other blended beverages.” Google trend analytics shows that in the last 2 years, interest in matcha has spiked over 250%. Creatively using matcha in hot, cold, and prepared applications will be a powerful force to encourage growth in sales, particularly among the health conscious, leading in to 2016. In fact, it is already starting to show up in some high-profile products from Häagen-Dazs ice cream to Jamba Juice smoothies.

Ancient Grains

Ancient grain products and ingredients are growing at a rapid pace. As a whole, they are perceived as healthier, trendier, more sustainable, and have a unique history attached to each grain. Ancient grains are loosely considered, though not strictly defined, to be grains or seeds that have not been modified by science. They can also be classified as whole grains because the bulk are very minimally processed and therefore contain more nutrients in their whole form. Used in cereals, cooked in pasta, used in salads, baked in to breads and crackers, or crusted on a protein, whole grains display a unique versatility in the kitchen. A growing market backed by consumers willing to pay a premium for products with an ancient grains label has created profitable opportunities for companies looking to include them in their products.

Historically, ancient grains have grown steadily along with whole grains since 2000, with brief periods of explosive growth between 2010 and 2015, and a continued pattern of steady, predictable growth up until 2015. Looking back, J. Popp of Aunt Millies Bakeries reports “In 2001, we generated 2% of our business from whole grains. Today, 38% of the bread and rolls we sell contain at least some whole grain flour.” Flowers Foods, Inc reported sales between 2007 and 2012 have risen 75% in the whole grain category, and that their whole wheat Natures Own brand of bread has been a top seller for decades.. Sara Lee estimates that from 2005 to 2010, whole grain product sales nearly doubled from 24% to 45%, representing a jump in total share of the category from 15% to 27%. Nielsen home data dating back to 2001 showed a 20% increase in per pound sales of whole wheat products by 2007. In terms of consumer preference, a report from 2009 states that 81% of consumers are trying to consume more whole grains, and 67% are consuming less refined grains, over a 10% jump in 4 years. Furthermore, an interest in exotic and different tastes is driving consumers to seek out more innovative products, a trend that has been growing in momentum since ethnic food begin its upswing in the early 2000’s.

On top of all the data showing a steady history of growth leading in to todays continued expansion, government agencies are picking up on the reliability and versatility of ancient grains. The leading grain in the early 2000’s was quinoa, and an article from the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, the latent characteristics of quinoa (which are mostly shared by amaranth, teff, sorghum, kaniwa, and others) have led to quinoa being considered a possible crop for NASA's Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration human occupied spaceflights. The FDA has also repeatedly touted quinoa and ancient grains as important crops for future food security and supply because of their ability to grow well in harsh and far from ideal climates.

Asian and Indian Chilies

Consumer palates are becoming more sophisticated. In response “food manufacturers are looking to their ingredient suppliers to offer a broader range of solutions, including culinary blends based on regional ethnic cuisines,” a statement made by Gary Augustine, executive director of market development for Kalsec. Specifically, this flavor trend is leaning toward Asia and India, two popular cuisines for not only their perceived health value and global attraction, but for their innovative dishes revolving around mild to extreme levels of heat. Curries from India and Thailand, stir fry from China, ramen noodles from Japan, and other regionally authentic dishes that lend themselves to spice have effectively created a vacuum toward spicy ethnic food.

Ethnic cuisine brings a lot to the table, but when boiled down to its basic components, it offers two distinct avenues that broaden our culinary horizons; new ingredients meshed with new preparations. Ethnic trends generally start with Americanized uses of ethnic ingredients and highly familiar and approachable presentations, such as innocuous stir fry’s using ingredients like broccoli and peppers that focus on sweet and tame flavors. These dishes allow consumers to experiment without departing from their comfort zone entirely. Yet as a cuisine takes hold and becomes a part of our culture as much as steak and potatoes, familiarity goes out the door as the masses of consumers seek out the most “true to the region” representations of cuisine. Recently, spicy food is on the top of the trend chart, and this trend meshes perfectly with the growing Asian and Indian trends because of the affinity these cuisines have to high levels of heat. For the exploratory and experimental consumer, Asia and India offer an enormous amount of traditional dishes that allow for consistently new experiences and ever increasing levels of flavor and hotness. As the infatuation with Mexican chilies wanes, Asian and Indian varieties are becoming increasingly sought after and applied on restaurant menu’s to capture consumer attention. As an added benefit, consumers seeking out the hottest of hot peppers will be excited to find that many of the world’s most scorchingly hot and deliciously flavored peppers from the East and not our neighbor Mexico.

The “Hot” List to Watch in 2015

Ghost Pepper/ bhut jolokia – Bangladesh/India
Peri peri Pepper – India/Africa
Aleppo Pepper – Middle East/Africa
Tien Tsin Pepper - China
Shichimi Togarashi – Chinese Pepper Blend
Shishito Pepper – East Asia
Thai Chilies – Thailand
Birds Eye Chilies – Thailand
Shichimi Togarashi Spice Blend– Japanese
Harissa Blend – Middle Eastern/African
Kashmiri Pepper - Indian

Colombia

The cuisine of Colombia is characterized by freshness. Cuisine varies regionally due to the combination of shoreline, Pacific coastal, mountainous, jungle, and ranchland geographical areas. Fresh fish and fresh fruit are plentiful, with a great variety rarely seen outside of Colombia that are enjoyed locally and exported worldwide, including dragon fruit, zapote, lulo, passion fruit, guava, cape gooseberry, and rare varieties of banana like the plantain. Fresh fruit stands are very common around the country, particularly in coastal cities. Mango, apple, pear, and other more common fruits also call Colombia home. Aside from fruits, the most common ingredients are cereal grains such as rice and maize, regional tubers such as cassava, various legumes, and staple meats including beef, chicken, pork, goat, and fresh fish. Chorizo, known worldwide as a spicy, crumbled sausage, is also widely eaten in Colombia, yet the definition includes all coarse meat sausages. With all that being said, the most prized Colombian commodity is the coffee, of which their export rate grew 30% and overall production 26% in 2014 to a total of 10.4 million bags. An appreciation for the subtle flavor differences in beans pervades the mindset of often delicately flavored cuisine.

TSeemingly unnoticed in the mainstream media and market, Colombian cuisine has been growing at a slow but steady rate through single unit restaurants, chain operations, food trucks, capitalizing on a nation-wide infatuation with South American cuisine as a whole. Globalization first brought us new cultures as a whole, but as consumers gain familiarity in global cuisine, regionally specific and authentic cuisines are gaining more attention. In response to this attention, many natively South American chains are using Florida as a gate for expansion, such as Hamberguesas El Corral, a prominent, 200+ unit chain based in Colombia and featuring a South American take on fresh food and burgers that is gaining traction through Florida and poised to expand through the rest of the country. In Oak Park, a suburb west of Chicago, a single unit operation called Aripo’s melds the classic Colombian “arepa,” a corn based flatbread often served in combination with breakfast and chorizo or sliced and stuffed to make a sandwich, with modern cultural influence and has had great success in a tough suburban landscape over the last decade, championing the cultural and culinary diversity of the country. A very popular food truck known as Palenque Home Made Colombian Food based in New York city combines a love for the corn based arepa together with modern fusion and fresh ingredients, even offering flax, sesame, and quinoa based ingredients, bolstered sundried tomato, arugula, and other non-Colombian yet on trend, culturally inspired, healthy ingredients.

Umami

u·ma·mi - o͞oˈmämē: a category of taste in food (besides sweet, sour, salt, and bitter), corresponding to the flavor of glutamates, especially monosodium glutamate, that facilitates an indescribable deliciousness corresponding with savory, rich, and “yum” flavors.

All ingredients contain umami. Cooking unlocks the amino acid glutamate that delivers a physiologically satisfying flavor profile that “just feels right.” Certain ingredients are naturally higher in glutamates than others, but creatively pairing low umami and high umami ingredients exponentially increases the desired result. Slow cooking, simmering, curing, and fermenting are methods that unlock amino acids, and meats, certain vegetables and fruits, and high protein content ingredients are all major umami containing ingredients. While meat generally reins king as a primary source for this sensational flavor, creatively using vegetables, grains, and seasonings will not alienate the health conscious, the vegetarians and vegans, or those with restricted diets. As umami is more of a “feeling” than an actual flavor, simple tweaks in a product or recipe that nod to “feel good” favorites provide the palate what it needs to feel satisfied. Umami was once a tool to encourage the overconsumption of bad for you foods and masked the low nutritional value. We have an opportunity today to encourage positive beneficial eating habits in the same manner simply by applying the same principle used by fast and convenience food companies to better for you options. Beyond guiding positive habits, umami gives producers a chance to employ “slight-edge” concept, whereby their products will be unmistakably more satisfying, and consumers flock to products that are “just better tasting.”

Farm to Table

In the United States, the average carrot has to travel 1,800 miles to reach your dinner table. The fact that this feat is even possible is a compliment to the growth of our nations agricultural and transportation systems, but also highlights a growing concern related to the quality of produce, creation of food deserts, and the need for more local and sustainable farming practices. More than ever, consumers are asking questions about their food; “Where and when was it grown? How far did it have to travel? Is it organic? Is it seasonal?” These questions have opened the door for many trends, from eating local and seasonally, to healthier meals focused on fresh, never frozen products. The overlapping philosophies behind these trends are linked to the developing market for farm to table style restaurants and food production companies rooted in an appreciation for anything between sustainable/biodynamic farming, organic practices, and support of the community. Farm to table refers to the stages of production, including harvest, storage, processing, packaging, sales, and consumption, and represents a movement toward shortening the distance food must travel from source to consumer. The last few years have seen a boom in farm to table companies, from the first advocates in California and Colorado to large organizations such as Bon Appétit Management Company. Today, restaurants all over the country are attempting to re-brand or emerge as a contender in this field and success is rewarded with a loyal customer base and high grossing customer tabs.

In 2015, food items connected to a specific farm are listed as the number 1 food trend for ingredients according to Restaurant.org, with 70% of Chef’s agreeing this is a hot trend. Directly related trends supporting this movement are locally sourced meats, seafood and vegetables, environmental sustainability, natural ingredients, hyper-local sourcing, sustainable seafood, and food waste reduction, all of which are on the top 10 list of trends to watch for 2015. From a food producer’s standpoint, some leeway is given where it is not for farm to table restaurants, which must be supplied directly by a farmer, and in many case the same farm the restaurant is on. Producers must simply own, represent, or highly scrutinize their ingredients from harvest to sale, as is the case with Farm to Table company, which produces organic oatmeal products. An ingredient or product need not be organic or produced sustainable for it to be farm to table, but the connotations add tremendous value.

The farm to table trend is a booming idea and represents a culmination of many current food trends, supporting an overall philosophy; the diversification of our food system, shortening of transportation for basic food commodities through local sourcing, focus on community, reduction of energy cost

Layers of Flavor

Consumers determine the level of their satisfaction by flavor. We are in a
flavor revolution that was ignited by the realization that we as consumers are
in an era that allows for staple ingredients to be available year round, and for a variety of seasonal ingredients to be available year round. This creates an expectation for ethnic ingredients to be prevalent in every supermarket
across the country. Sourcing locally often times means these ingredients are better tasting and of a higher quality, such as the humble heirloom tomato that shook the foundation of what a tomato should taste like. Bolstered by this availability and quality, 2014 brought with it consumers that are obsessed with ingredients and dishes that highlight big and bold flavors. These are layered in perfectly with subtle elements and delicate treatments that elevate each component to new heights, and therefore the experience as a whole. To meet this demand for explosive and carefully layered flavors, chefs and producers are employing a variety of new and old techniques, ingredients, and equipment. Some examples include fermented condiments like kimchi and Srirachra, creative or artisan pickles, bold ethnic garnishes such as chutneys and relishes, dishes that have been reconstructed and refocused to highlight specific elements, and wraps or carriers that themselves are strongly flavored. The variety goes on, and chefs possess the creativity and equipment necessary to effectively layer flavor, whether by taste, texture, appearance or temperature.

Fermentation in particular is a technique on the rise. With craft beer booming as an industry, and home brewing following suit, the basic idea of fermented product is gaining more mainstream attention. Add to that our favorite fermented hot sauce in Srirachra, and include the staple Korean condiment kimchi that is steadily gaining traction and appeal, and we have a fermentation frenzy going on. Fermenting food adds characteristics that are still relatively unfamiliar in the American market. The average consumer, for example, does not know that fermentation is actually a very safe and effective way of flavoring and preserving product that has been used as a preparation method since the domestication of farm animals up until now. Furthermore, health conscious consumers are aware that fermentation increases the bioactivity and nutritional density of foods, adding to the actual and perceived value of fermented items.From an operational standpoint, fermentation also requires little energy or space to accomplish, and decreases the prep time and necessary extraneous actions needed to prep and use the item.

Dessert Fusion

This country, and to a great extent the entire world, is on the heels of a doughnut, salted caramel, chocolate, and cupcake fueled dessert frenzy. It is no wonder then that modern chefs continue to put their creativity to the test, experimenting with and marrying ingredients and flavors, and presenting their creations in newer and more innovative ways. Fusion is the new chic, and show stopping desserts hold a sweet surprise and make eaters gasp at their creativity and ingenuity. Pairing salt with caramel and cayenne pepper, doughnuts with bacon, or smoked Gouda cheese with chocolate was just the start and it has not stopped.

Hybrid desserts are known as two distinctly different items meshed together with elements of both items still represented. Think cronut (doughnut + croissant), or a townie (tart + brownie), then throw in modern creativity, and the results are endless. Nutelasagna is a trendy idea that combines Nutella with the flavors of smores in a lasagna style casserole dish. Some options like cronuts, townies, brookies (brownies + cookies), offer real potential for manufacturers as new hot items, while others will simply remain fun new ideas. Hybrid desserts combine the best of flavor innovation with the most creative of combinations. Even more, they engage consumers and make them feel special because you get something more than just one dessert for your meal. Perhaps most important, hybrid desserts are new opportunity to resurrect out of fashion favorites while simultaneously creating whole new concepts. In a world where nationally marketed beer-flavored jelly beans and cinnamon sugar potato chips are flying off of the shelves, dessert fusion is something to watch out for in 2015.

Snack Attack

As consumers’ lives continue to evolve with the times, so do their eating habits. Many consumers are changing up their old lifestyles to a more health-focused way of living. Exercise and better-for-you options are being sought after and will continue to rise. A huge segment of dining is skyrocketing: snacking. “Snacking is the new black.” In other words, snacking has become popular for a few reasons.

Nutrition professionals are recommending people wanting to lose or maintain a healthy weight eat several small, health-focused meals throughout the day, instead of three large meals. Snacking is also directly related to another craze: small plates. Dining out and sharing food has become very popular allowing consumers to share their dining experience with others, as well as sample a variety of foods establishments have to offer.

  • Consumers are seeking more snacking meals for health reasons, busy schedules and for a variety of choices, instead of one large meal.
  • Snacking allows several daily “pick-me-ups” throughout the day.
  • Seeking both lighter and more indulgent snacking.
  • Both sweet and savory snacking is being sought.
  • Snacking allows personal time to refuel mind, body and soul.