Pushing New Pair-A-Meters

By Deborah Cassell

Latin American chilis, Cheddary chipotle and peppered citruses lead the list of seasonings transforming the snack aisle in 2007.

Pop culture is full of celebrity couples, many of whom have made for strange bedfellows. Think Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley, Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall, Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn, Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett, and Renée Zelwegger and Kenny Chesney. The list is never-ending.
That said, it turns out that a few seemingly unlikely pairs might be made for each other. Take, for example, power partners Courtney Cox and David Arquette, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, and Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck.
To each their own, you might say. But the same theory can be applied to many of today’s tumbler-applied or topical snack seasonings. Although pairing wasabi with maple, peppercorn with fruit, and gorgonzola with red Thai chili might seem odd on the outset, tasting is believing.
Just ask McCormick & Co., Inc., whose 2007 Flavor Forecast includes combinations such as Clove & Green Apple, Thyme & Tangerine, Tellicherry Black Pepper & Berry, Sea Salt & Smoked Tea, Lavender & Honey, Crystallized Ginger & Salted Pistachio, Cumin & Apricot, Toasted Mustard and Fennel Seeds, Carmelized Garlic & Riesling Vinegar … and Wasabi & Maple.
“In this report, we examined two overarching trends influencing flavor,” notes Laurie Harrsen, director of consumer communications at McCormick, in a release. “The first is the ever-expanding breadth of choices, specifically with individual ingredients. Even staples like salt are now available in a diverse palette of flavor, color and texture. Also, global cuisines, particularly those of North Africa, Asia and the Middle East, continue to drive our exploration of new foods and flavors.”
Several items on Kerry Ingredients’ SNAXPO 2007 Seasonings Innovations Menu hail from overseas, as well. This year’s picks, for use on bases such as popcorn, cashews, extruded curls, and tortilla and kettle chips, are: Japala-Potle Berry Blast, Organic Fiery Dragon, Under the Tuscan Sun, Vanilla Crème Brulee, Queso Chorizo, Smoky-Sweet Maple BBQ, Tangy Mango Habanero and the aforementioned Gorgonzola Red Thai Chili.
According to Kerry’s senior corporate chef, Danny Bruns, South American cuisine — with its variety of peppers and meats — is the No. 1 ethnic region right now. Asian flavors also are tops, thanks partly to the current popularity of sushi, he adds. However, Bruns asserts that there’s a difference between fusion and pairing or layering flavors.
“I hate fusion because of the irrelevance,” he says. “Otherwise, it’s confusion.”
In other words, seasonings experts don’t want their offerings lost in translation.
Latin Invasion
Just as the American music industry is experiencing a second coming of Brit pop, so are seasoning menus being invaded by flavors from other continents and countries. As U.S. consumers travel more and are exposed to a diversified array of cultures, they develop a broader taste palate, hence the demand for global seasonings that are considered both upscale and complex.
At Symrise, flavor and seasoning technologies combine to create value-added ingredients that “allow us to capture more complex profiles,” says Amanda Lee, national account manager, flavor & nutrition division North America.
Ingredients such as Indonesian cinnamon, habanero chilis and chipotle are succeeding because they’re perceived as upscale, says Bob Kaminski, director of the consumer products lab for Wixon, Inc.
Meanwhile, complex combinations of upscale flavors from Asia, Greece, India, Scandinavia and Germany stand to make an impact on snacks this year and beyond, according to “Spices & Seasonings in the U.S.,” a Packaged Facts report.
But right now, Latin America is hot.
For example, Symprise’s introductions displayed at SNAXPO, the Snack Food Association’s show held in March, included tortilla chips flavored with Adobo Hot BBQ and Chamoycho, both of which were created by the company’s Mexican division.
“Mexican cuisine became the third most popular cuisine on menus following traditional American and Italian last year,” reveals the Menu Insights report from Mintel, a Chicago-based supplier of consumer trend information. “Its popularity brought about an increase in regional Mexican cuisine,” Mintel continues, naming Oaxacan, Jalisco-style and Mazatlan as examples.
Mintel also suggests that Peruvian influences soon will follow.
In addition, the Thai influence remains strong. For example, Kerry’s Gorgonzola Red Thai Chili pushes the envelope with what it calls a “limited, upscale flavor,” blending blue cheese and coconut, ginger, lemon grass and chili.
Chilis are the one commonality between popular Latin American and Thai flavors. Today’s snacks have hit the pepper jackpot.
“Habanero is where chipotle was five years ago,” Bruns says, resulting in Kerry’s decision to incorporate these peppers in its Seasoning Innovations Menu.
According to Mintel, sweet/spicy combinations such as smoky ancho and chipotle peppers with chocolate will be big this year. However, the report adds, chipotle, ancho and jalapeño soon will be replaced by Indian and Moroccan flavors such as cardamom, chai, cinnamon/cassia, curry, anise, cumin, cloves and coriander, which could even pop up on dessert menus.
Cheezy Does It
Chili and cheese go together like Sonny and Cher, Simon and Garfunkel, and Hall and Oates, to name a few. In fact, cheese is the second most popular ingredient used in snack seasoning blends, according to a recent presentation by Givaudan at the Snack Food Association’s recent Practical Short Course in Snack Foods Processing. When used in puffs, potato chips and corn chips, it provides flavor, mouth-feel, texture and color, according to the seminar.
For example, Kraft Food Ingredients’ cheese-laden introductions for 2007 include White Hot, a white Velveeta cheese powder with hot peppers on potato chips; Black & White, a black pepper and parmesan cheese blend on potato chips; and Queso Blanco Quesadilla, a white cheese quesadilla with hot peppers on tortilla chips. Olé!
When used in combination with meat flavors, cheese snacks pack even more punch. For example, of all the seasonings Kerry has introduced for 2007, Queso Chorizo has the most commercial applications, Bruns says. Meanwhile, Continental Ingredients’ new seasonings include Cheddar n’ Bacon.
Speaking of Cheddar, Commercial Creamery provides the snack food industry with several Cheddar, White Cheddar and Butter Cheddar blends. One of Kraft’s new flavors is White Spectrum, a white sharp cheese on popcorn. And Continental Ingredients pairs sharp Canadian Cheddar with chipotle for tasty results. In addition, SNAXPO exhibitor Land O’Lakes showcased such cheesy seasonings as Kosher Cheddar Sour Cream and Cheddease 921, the latter of which is a trademarked flavor that contains no partially hydrogenated oil and is trans fat-free.
Super-Duper Fruits
If there were an Academy Awards for seasonings — or, more specifically, fruit flavors — then last year’s leading lady, the pomegranate, would have taken home an Oscar for best performance. The “super fruit” — a now popular term delineating fruits with functional health benefits such as high levels of Vitamin C and antioxidants — could be found in everything from beverages to baked goods in 2006.
Fast forward to 2007, which has seen the rise of another exotic star, the acai berry. Make no mistake: the acai berry’s predecessor is still in the picture, but fruits such as the acerola cherry are putting in strong performances, as well. All three can be counted among the better-for-you elite when it comes to energy drinks and muffins, among other products.
Mangos also are on the rise, Brun says, which explains the introduction of Kerry’s Tangy Mango Habanero blend, a mix of chili peppers and citrusy pineapple, orange and mango on a curls base.
In addition, Packaged Facts recently reported that lesser-known fruits such as the gogi berry, guarana, mangosteen, lychee, camu camu and cupuacu will get some press this year, too.
Meanwhile, industry innovators such as Buddha’s hand, kumquats and grapefruit replace last year’s blood orange, prickly pear and yuzu are 2007 flavors to watch, according to Mintel Menu Insights.
Mintel goes on to say that uncommon pairings started finding common ground in 2006 when “sweet-and-earthy” flavor pairings of fruit and herbs swept restaurant menus. This year, it predicts that black and white peppercorns will be combined with fruit, as well, often in dessert items.
In fact, restaurant trends, including dessert menus, are a major influencing factor, according to Bruns.
“Crème brulee was the No. 1 dessert across all restaurants, probably for the last 10 years,” he says. “We thought popcorn would be a great carrier.”
Kerry wasn’t the only exhibitor showcasing dessert-esque seasonings during SNAXPO. Among Symrise’s show introductions was an unexpected Banana Bread-flavored wheat cracker.
Whether it’s Mexican peppers, cheesy seasonings or rare super-fruits consumers crave in their daily snacks, “in the end, it’s just got to taste good,” Brun says. “The simpler, the better.”
In other words, wasabi and maple might not ring as true as salt and pepper, but if snackers like it, then such seasoned couples might have staying power. SF&WB
The Proof Is in the Product
A perusal of products on display during SNAXPO 2007 reveals that when it come to seasonings, innovation is key. The following noteworthy items were up for grabs at the recent Snack Food Association show.
• Popcorn, Indiana All Natural Spicy Honey Mustard Kettle Corn
• Pringles Select in Sundried Tomato, Cinnamon Sweet Potato, Parmesan Garlic and Rice-Szechuan Barbecue
• Poore Brothers Three Cheese Jalapeno Kettle Chips
• Snyder of Berlin Hot & Spicy Jalapeno Potato Chips
• T.G.I. Friday’s Quesadilla Cheese
• Frito’s Flavor Twists in Honey BBQ
• Vitner’s Gourmet White Cheddar Popcorn
• Natural Planet Certified Organic 100% Whole Grain White Cheddar Popcorn
• JonnyRapp’s Totally Cooll Cheddar & Bacon Baked Fries, a Corn & Tater Snack
• Bachman Garlic & Herb Flavored Popcorn