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What’s Hot? Personalization of Flavor

NAFFS Staff Report

“Personalization let’s us offer products the way our customers want them now,” Chef Matt Burton, Charlie Baggs Culinary Consulting and Product Development, told attendees at the 101st Annual NAFFS Convention.

A certified executive and research chef, Burton brought a lifetime of experience (and letters) behind his name. He studies marketing trends in flavors and what’s emerging for every type of consumer. “Vegetable proteins are a big deal,” he said. He noted there are five flavor categories on trend:

Sharp/Spicy: This category includes pungent elements like raw onions, scallions, garlic or shallots —either raw or cooked. A spicy slaw, chopped kimchi or spicy mayonnaise and pepper-loaded cheeses also belong.

Fresh: Fresh vegetables like lettuce or tomatoes, sliced peppers or cucumbers. Raw and clean tasting.

Rich and Meaty: Gooey melted cheeses or mayo-based spreads, sliced deli meats such as ham or pepperoni, bacon and avocado.

Tart/Pickled: Pickled cucumbers, carrots, jalapeños, sauerkraut— “pickled anything, really. I'd also include tart salads like cole slaw, or certain types of sauces, like vinegary barbecue sauce or a relish-based Thousand-Island,” he said

Sweet: Kansas city-style barbecue sauce, sweet Asian-style glazes, ketchup fruits.

These, he said, are the emerging flavors that will continue to stay on the palates of Americans over the next several years. “Intense flavor layering with a global authenticity is what our educated consumers are seeking. They want to know what it is, where it came from and that it is real,” he said.

He noted, too, that there are shifts in flavor preferences based on seasons, an example of which is pumpkin spice. “That’s an example of how we can take something basic and make it new,” he said. He called this “Modern Mindfulness” and made clear that it is his starting point. He said likes to take something basic and add something special and new to make it interesting and sought-after. Goji berries are one of these popular, fun, emerging tastes, he said. “But”, he cautioned, “it’s not the place to start. Goji is something to be added to something you already have. Modern mindfulness puts flavor development at the epicenter of the consumer value system. It’s not about wholesomeness or better-for-you; it’s about feel-good food with flavor,” he said. “Feel-good food with customized flavor development is at the epicenter of creating winning food and beverage products – ultimate focus of consumer value system today; chefs making consumer wishes come true.”

Roasted carrots, he said, are another example. “It’s an established item but if you add the ever-popular Asian fusion spices of cumin and coriander you benefit from the familiar, while enhancing the item with something new. Chocolate is the same story. Start with basic and then add the new items like cranberries, almond and extend your line of selections that way,” he said.

He said consumers today seek an intense overall flavor experience beyond specific flavors, noting in some Chinese restaurants, the customer can pick their spice and pick their numbness – the food can be customizable at the table.

A trend he sees emerging is the “grocerant”, which is a grocery type store for prepared foods. “Consumers don’t want pre-packaged grab and go any longer,” Burton said. “They prefer to see it packaged or do it themselves.” This concept, he added, shows that even though there is more waste, the consumer will pay more for this format and make it cost-effective for operators. They are also willing to wait while their food is prepared for them.

Customization, Burton said, can be alluded to in a menu by using certain words that make it seem custom. Instructions on a box, such as suggestions to add different ingredients, can also add to the custom feeling. Other observations from Burton:

  • Authenticity is also “still key”.
  • Consumers see food as a delicious, healthy, helpful adventure. They are extremely vegetable focused and on real ingredients, proteins and plant milks. Superfoods and culturally influenced flavor profiles are driving the interest behind the purchase.
  • Color can be a flavor these days. “Your favorite Gatorade is likely expressed as a color.
  • Texture can also be a flavor – think Pop Rocks, he said.
  • Food is hot and getting hotter. “Bland is dead,” he said. A restaurant, he added, needs more than one hot sauce to offer the consumer.

To illustrate his remaining points, Burton arranged for a painter’s palette of specially prepared sauces put at each attendee’s seat, along with three small cups of sauces and a plate holding a piece of bacon and some golden raisins.

The three bases he prepared were: a white garlic aioli. He called it “rich” and “sharp”; a green pistou sauce, which he described as pesto without the nuts, but made of fresh herbs and offering a “tartness”; and a brown hoisin sauce which, he said, “is essentially Asian BBQ sauce, as it carries smoky, sweet, meaty notes.”

He described the painter’s palette full of sauces, going clockwise: The first was tamarind. He had pureed and thinned the tamarind pods, creating a tartness and richness often used in desserts. The second was peri peri. It was taken from the pepper and mixed, as they do in the Caribbean, with garlic, lemon juice, oregano, red onion and red pepper and olive oil to form a significantly emerging, popular flavor, he said, adding it offered some heat but a tartness and freshness as well. The third, he said, was not hot. It was Bulgogi, which he likened it to an extremely traditional South Korean BBQ dish. Burton said he took a beef base to give the flavor of the finished dish.

The next sauce in the palette was Gochujang, a sweet red chili paste from South Korea. It is made of chili powder, glutinous rice, fermented soybean powder, salt and barley malt powder, and in this particular case, a sweetener of honey. Burton said it an extremely complex flavor, used in condiments and marinades. “The more you taste it, the more different flavors you get,” he said. This was fermented in stoneware, which helped to bring down the heat.

The fifth tasting was black garlic. It’s everywhere,” Burton said. Many chefs, he said, don’t take the time to make it correctly, as they merely roast it until it’s black. “In fact, it’s regular garlic aged in a humidity- and temperature-controlled environment at temperatures between 140-170 degrees and it stays in there for 60-90 days. It ferments and breaks all the enzymes down that helps get that taste. I’m amazed by the fact that this non-meat product can carry so much of the Umami flavor,” he said. Burton said Umami is on trend, adding that vegan and vegetarian food that tastes like meat is very sought-after. “This black garlic, bringing the umami flavor that it does, offers a unique opportunity to help get there,” he said.

The next tasting was Yuzu. Burton said it comes from a tiny lime or mandarin orange-like fruit and he added xanthum gum for thickening. It’s an expensive flavor shipped in from Asia and it is found in a lot of mixology for beverages and marinades, ceviche or any type of sauce over chicken, fish or poultry. Yuzu juice is available in the U.S. and is a nice addition to brush on a cake, he said.

The next tasting was “barrel-aged” which Burton said he and his team took a long time to develop in a liquid form. “The notes are vanilla and oak, like you would find in a bourbon or whiskey, created into a simple flavor.

The next flavor was merely pickles, pureed into a sauce that Burton said would be helpful when participants began the portion of the program in which they would create their own flavors.

Number nine was Shoshito peppers. These had to be roasted, blackened with a blow torch, deseeded, stems removed, pureed with chicken stock and frozen and shipped to the hotel before Burton could defrost and pipe it onto this palette. The problem with this pepper is the amount in a tasting is impossible to predict. It is an on-trend item, he said, and offers fresh, spicy and a tartness as well.

The last flavor was prickly pear, which offered a sweetness, tartness and freshness but in a very different way. Prickly Pear comes from an edible cactus and is used in cocktails or mixed with other fruits.

Burton invited the attendees to begin creating their own flavors. He introduced them to their “brushes”, which were a slice of bacon offering the savory, smoky-meaty flavor and, on the other side, sweetness brought by golden raisins.

He started the group off with some of his own creations, put together to show the effects of each flavor on the others. Hoisin sauce was combined with a barrel-aged flavor; aioli with peri peri. Unique layers of flavors were created by the attendees until Burton closed by asking everyone to combine prickly pear, hoisin, peri peri and black garlic to create, what he called, the “ultimate bite---every single flavor category is in that taste.”

When asked what solutions he would ask the flavor industry for, Burton said:

  • his customers want a strongly flavored meat with hot sauces. He seeks a vinegar flavor without the vinegar side effects.
  • he believes truffle flavor will never be as good as the real thing.
  • sourcing emerging unique peppers is also a challenge, since his customers want to identify the pepper on the label.
  • he would love a habanero pepper without the hot and a Szechuan pepper without the numbness.

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