Sector News

Trending flavors: Adventurous tastes and unexpected combinations gain traction while classics are given new twists

July 2, 2023
Consumer Packaged Goods

Elements of escapism, provenance and craveability are trending in flavor innovation as consumers seek adventurous tastes from regions steeped in culinary tradition or a balanced combination of sweet and savory notes in one application.

The umami flavor profile rises to new heights, limited-edition dominates a stronger position and classics like vanilla and citrus are given a fresh twist as food creatives become inspired by the idea of reinvention.

Food Ingredients First dives into the quirky twists on savory and glacé flavors being developed by a range of key industry players.

“Today’s consumers are showing an increased interest in flavor experimentation, especially as they seek out new ways to express themselves through foods and beverages. This comes at a time when global consumers want food and drink options with new and unusual flavors,” says Jennifer Zhou, global director of product marketing, flavors at ADM.

Escapism through food
Regional, global flavors and limited-time offerings (LTOs) meet consumer needs for exploration or inventiveness. About 73% of global consumers say they like limited-edition flavors, according to consumer research by ADM.

“This is also rooted in a desire for escapism through food. LTOs with ube, matcha or dragon fruit provide the adventure consumers are seeking,” adds Zhou.

Consumers are focused on foods and drinks that provide energy, concentration and relaxation. Lavender, chamomile, vanilla and cinnamon evoke comfort and well-being while vibrant and refreshing citrus and mint flavors pair well with products targeting energy support.

Botanicals and fruit-forward flavors, including citrus, are popular and considered “closer to nature.”

“We can take inspiration from 2022 summer launches to predict which flavors will continue to appeal. This means we can expect to see continued popularity of pineapple, lime and mixed fruits flavors,” Paola Bassi, marketing director Europe at Synergy Flavours explains.

There is continued interest in East Asian-inspired flavor combinations in Europe, such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai cuisine.

“Savory Asian dishes exemplify the combination of saltiness, sweetness and spiciness, which is increasingly sought after, with regional differences in key ingredients leading to varied taste experiences,” says Bassi.

Floral flavors are sometimes combined with bold flavors such as ginger, pepper and chili. Smoked flavors like Japanese BBQ, smoked seaweed, smoky tomato, seared and blackened options remain popular.

“Manufacturers can enhance savory products, such as crisps, ready meals and marinated meats, by using flavor boosters such as umami and kokumi enhancers alongside smoky flavors,” continues Bassi.

Regional delights
Flavors from South and East Asia are trending. Notes from gochujang, sumac, shishito peppers, fish sauce, seaweed and black garlic tie into this.

“We tend to see these regional flavor profiles in the snack category, emulating traditional Korean snacks such as stir-fried cakes with chili paste or black sesame snack bites,” explains Zhou.

At the same time, vanilla remains a highly sought-after flavor, and based on its harvest region, it can enhance “adventurous eating.” Madagascan vanilla provides a profile of beany and bourbon notes, while vanilla sourced in Uganda provides a more moderate, creamy profile. Meanwhile, vanilla from Papua New Guinea has more floral, fruity and marshmallow-like notes.

In contrast, Tanzanian vanilla has caramel-like, sweet brown and maple essences and Indonesian vanilla brings a woody and smoky profile. “Our single-origin vanilla extracts can take consumers through these refined flavor varieties,” ADM’s Zhou says.

Traditional orange, lemon and lime coupled with emerging varieties such as finger lime, calamansi, yuzu, kumquat and blood orange allow product developers to appeal to consumer demands. ADM’s captive citrus technology, Corefold, uses proprietary concentration methods to deliver bold and vibrant flavors.

Premium provenance
In Europe, traditional and core flavor profiles such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and citrus remain in demand.

“Manufacturers are also using provenance claims to position flavors as premium. A Madagascan vanilla or Belgian chocolate may appeal more than a ‘chocolate’ or ‘vanilla’ flavored product,” Bassi explains.

Provenance is linked to traceability and transparency, which is becoming increasingly important in consumer purchasing decisions.

“We’ve witnessed this trend in alcoholic beverage applications, particularly in spirits and ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail options, where flavors such as Sicilian lemon and Italian blood orange are enticing consumers,” Bassi continues.

Strawberry, peach, elderflower, watermelon and rhubarb are popular in new product launches.

Flavors associated with immunity, cognition, energy and relaxation are trending. Lemon balm, chamomile and passionflower flavors help consumers unwind.

Top flavors vary by category and geographic region. “More indulgent categories such as ice cream will have indulgent gourmand flavor tonalities while RTD beverages may have refreshing citrus flavor tonalities,” says Cecilia Pereyra, product marketing lead, flavors at IFF.

In the US, ice cream may have top gourmand and brown flavors while Asia may be more accepting of botanical flavors. “One trending flavor combination across all categories is the mix of sweet and salty flavor tonalities.”

Plant-based flavors

Natural cheese flavors like sharp cheddar, creamy mozzarella, Manchego, feta and halloumi dominate the dairy and plant-based cheese category.

“Once a signature cheese is launched, new flavor combinations can help cheesemakers attract new consumers and excite existing buyers. Thirty-two percent of consumers in Germany say trying a flavor they haven’t tasted before would make them choose one cheese over another, a sentiment shared by 31% in Spain and 26% in France,” says Evandro Oliveira de Souza, business director of cheese at DSM-Firmenich.

“Wurzig” flavors are a key area of development in plant-based cheese, specifically in the Netherlands and Germany. “These often rich, robust and piquant flavors add an interesting dimension to plant-based cooking and snacking,” adds De Souza.

While herbal is the third most commonly launched cheese flavor among European consumers, after natural and smoky, more distinctive and unusual cheese pairings are launching in the APAC region, with strawberry flavors ranking fourth, the highest of any other region.

“Dairy-like tastes and textures are critical, but consumers are increasingly comparing protein and salt content when adding plant-based cheeses to their shopping baskets,” De Souza says.

DSM-Firmenich created solutions for plant-based cheese with yeast extracts, dairy-type flavors, top notes and masking agents to replicate traditional cheese’s savory and umami taste minus the added salt.

Selected cultures can impart different levels of acidification and characteristic flavor profiles to any type of cheese. “These cultures can help create new product concepts or be added to base recipes to intensify certain flavor attributes.”

Infused vegetable oils
The market for flavored oils where olive oil, sunflower, soya and rapeseed are infused with herbs, botanicals, fungi and citrus for an umami kick is on a healthy growth trajectory. Consumer favorites such as chili and garlic in sunflower oil are gaining traction.

“Using cold-pressed olive oil as a base, we see infusions of basil, bergamot and rosemary paired with more unusual flavors such as truffle gaining wider consumer acceptance,” says Simon Corner, sales and marketing director at Kerfoot.

“When it comes to sweeter blended oils, fruitier flavors such as lemon and orange in sunflower oil are popular, bringing a zesty tang to most food formulations.”

The oils category is showing significant innovation when it comes to experimenting with new flavor blends and the organoleptic, sensory and mouthfeel aspects.

“There are interesting developments in this space, including oils derived from algae and other marine assets,” says Corner.

“Another unusual but growing trend is the infusion of smoked meat flavors into flavored oils. We can expect to see the market for unconventional oil sources, infusions and flavor profiles grow.”

Craveable taste sensations
Complex, well-rounded tastes have taken center stage with umami as key. Mushrooms and truffles combined with spicy, sour and sweet flavors is one example.

“Coffee is also back, but it’s being used in new formats, such as espresso martinis with a hint of parmesan cheese. It might sound strange, but the sharp, salty, umami notes of the cheese help enhance the rich smoothness of the coffee,” says Jill Houk, director of culinary at ofi.

The company’s culinary team is exploring the combination of adding a hot and spicy ingredient and tempering it with a sweet or fatty flavor. “The hot honey craze is the ultimate example here, with this sweet and spicy condiment expected to dominate this summer in drizzles and salad dressings.

The southern US is leading in this flavor category. ofi created “Blends of the Americas,” a collection of spice blends reflecting tastes of the region, including Mexico and the Caribbean. Hot honey, sriracha mayo or tonkotsu chili ketchup are adventurous dipping sauces in the comfort food category.

“Consumers tend to gravitate toward umami-rich seasonings to accompany their veggie burgers and vegan sausages, such as onion powder, garlic salt or even dried mushrooms,” says Houk.

Flavors that spark joy are essential on special occasions and have raised the profile of traditionally savory ingredients like salt, chilis or truffles in dessert products.

Energy and hydration drinks have become a fun and experimental area for flavor creation. “There is also a lot of traction in RTD cocktails, as brands innovate with twists on classic favorites. Artificial intelligence also shows promise as a new way to approach flavor innovation,” says Bassi.

Salted caramel is popular in ice cream, bakery, confectionery, bars and coffee. In chocolate flavors, some of the key flavor families are chocolate with herbs and spices, including mint, ginger and cardamom.

“Some key trends in flavor are complex flavor tonalities and unexpected flavor combinations due to the desire for more sensorial experiences. Fermented and global flavors are a hit, with consumers wanting to experience different cultures,” says Pereyra.

Indulgence leads the way
Health-conscious consumers prioritize natural and ethically sourced. Cold-pressed flavored oils meet the requirements as they are high in bioflavonoids, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, zinc, vitamins A, C, E and D, lecithin and potassium.

“When it comes to the formulation of baked and savory goods and snacks, garlic and chili in sunflower oil remains a popular and easy addition,” says Corner.

Basil oil is another favorite, especially in Taralli, a typical Italian snack. “For something a little more unusual, the rich and earthy tones of truffle in grapeseed oil allow for a more complex flavor, but in a simple-to-add format.

Citrus flavors continue to be a great addition to sweet products and cakes but can also provide a more intricate base flavor profile to savory products.

Botanicals, mushrooms, adaptogens, herbs and fermented flavors fit well in the wellness space.

“Classic options like chocolate, vanilla or caramel remain popular and nostalgic flavors evoking comfort. Adventure-seeking Millennials are driving innovation in new flavor launches,” explains Pereyra.

Flavors and formats are moving toward “exotic and gourmet” as palates become worldlier. Nostalgic flavors are trending among consumers wanting feel-good emotional experiences.

“Consumers crave bigger and bolder flavors and formats. Globally inspired sub-trends such as exotic fruits, bold combinations, origin flavors and hyper-local flavors are gaining popularity,” concludes Pereyra.

By Inga de Jong


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