Flavor companies have recognized the demand for globally influenced ingredients and are focusing their efforts on forecasting the flavors that may one day be the focus of the North American palate.
Every year, many of the leading flavor companies publish their predictions for what the most popular flavors and flavor combinations will be during the year. A variety of “foreign/exotic” combinations appears in this year’s predictions, and that makes perfect sense, according to Cathy Armstrong, vice president of corporate communications for Comax Flavors, Melville, NY.
“This is because the world is shrinking and consumer taste interests are expanding,” she says. “As such, unusual flavors and flavor combinations are emerging all the time.
“We are seeing a cross-pollination of flavor trends such as people from the East being interested in flavor profiles from the West and vice versa. There’s been a true globalization of demands in flavor development. There’s no segmentation anymore.”
Because of this cross-pollination, it’s sometimes challenging to identify authentic foods and flavors in other countries, according to Armstrong.
“It can actually be a struggle to get the flavors that used to be associated with a particular region – even when you’re in that region,” she says.
For example, consumers are no longer intrigued by generic Mexican foods. They want to experience the flavors and recipes of specific regions within the country, such as Oaxaca or Guadalajara.
“We think there’s a new awareness of regional distinctions from different cultures that may have been overlooked, such as the differences among the varied regions of Italy, from Tuscany to Sicily, from Northern Italian cuisine to Southern Italian cuisine,” Armstrong says. “In China, the flavors and presentation are distinctively different from province to province.”
Each flavor company strives to be the first to recognize and re-create those subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – flavor notes and distinctive differences.
Emil Shemer, director of food solutions at Sensient Flavors, Indianapolis, Ind., says, “When flavors and/or cuisines are taking a foothold in the US, we tend to ‘Americanize’ them during the initial phases of growth. Later on, after initial acceptance, they go back to having much more authentic profiles as, for example, Thai food has today.”
“It used to be, before the economy crashed, people would try exotic meals, but now they’re watching their money and looking for more approachable items,” says Christopher Warsow, corporate executive chef for Bell Flavors and Fragrances, Northbrook, Ill.
On balance, Bell Flavors and Fragrances is not focusing exclusive – or even primary – attention on white-tablecloth “trickle down” trends today, but rather on the “trickle up” influence emanating from independent retailers and food trucks.
“It’s the new ‘American fusion comfort foods’; people are doing fusion everything,” says Warsow. “They’re taking the familiar taco and doing Korean bulgogi barbecue. We sell a ton of hot- sauce powder to infuse cayenne pepper flavor into foods, as well as spicy chili garlic sauce, like a Korean flavor.”