Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hotter, Mintier, Fruitier!

Americans are demanding extreme flavor sensations! Here is an interesting article about this new trend:

The Increased Craving for Intense Flavors Suggests That the American Palate is Changing

The buttery taste found in packaged foods isn't just butter flavor anymore. Increasingly, it is browned-butter flavor, formulated to taste deeper and more savory than plain butter, says International Flavors and Fragrances, one of the leading laboratories for developing flavors used by food companies.

Snack chips are spicier. Chewing gum is mintier. Energy drinks are fruitier. In short, American cuisine is adrenaline cuisine.

Some food companies are hitting their labs to try to torque up flavorings to appeal to the country's expanding palates, and, of course, boost sales of snacks, drinks and even main courses. Arugula and ancho-chile sauce now appear at restaurants like Chili's where there was once only iceberg lettuce and mayonnaise. PepsiCo Inc.'s Frito-Lay brand recently introduced Doritos chip flavors labeled First-, Second- and Third-Degree Burn. Gum-maker Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. is using new technologies like textured crystals it calls Micro-Bursts to deliver a more intense flavor as well as new sweeteners to make flavors last longer. At home, seasoning company McCormick & Co. Inc. says Americans now keep an average of 40 different spices, a figure that has grown roughly twice as fast in the past two decades as it did in the previous 30 years...

Food and flavor companies are secretive about the technology used to enhance flavors that they consider proprietary information. They now have the ability to create the full spectrum of any flavor in a lab. A simple strawberry flavor can range from tart, just-picked strawberry to almost candy-like sweetness. When Dr Pepper Snapple developed its new Dr Pepper Cherry soda, for example, it tested 30 different cherry profiles with consumers...

The current flavor boom is a big change for a nation known for its mashed potatoes, chicken sticks, macaroni and cheese and other unadventurous fare. It's a reversal that has been in the making since the advent of processed food first began to drown out regional cuisines during World War II, food historians say.

"Bold is replacing boring," says Kevan Vetter, McCormick's executive chef who is part of a team that has met for the past 10 years to develop McCormick's annual "flavor forecast" report. The report includes the top 10 flavor pairings that the spice-maker thinks will be popular in the coming year. Among the flavor couplets in its 2010 forecast are roasted cumin and chick peas, caraway and bitter greens, roasted rhubarb and ginger, and almond and ale...

New flavors used to originate in fine dining kitchens and work their way down, but now they come just as often from the Food Network or from ethnic or international sources. "The timeline that trends take to evolve down to the mass consumer has really shortened," Mr. Vetter says.
McCormick now counts sea-salt, smoked paprika, roasted garlic and dried lemongrass among the flavors in its typical grocery-store offerings. Asian and Caribbean spices, blends and marinades have been the focus of recent roll-outs, and the company is predicting strong Indian spices will be big within the next five years.

At Frito-Lay Inc.'s Plano, Texas, headquarters, executives describe their new flavors of Doritos chips to match what they see as the brand's image. Doritos, the company says, are targeted at a younger audience. The Doritos consumer likes action-packed video games and late-night partying and wants that extreme experience to translate to the chips as well.

So, its new First-, Second- and Third-Degree Burn chip varieties are made with jalapeno, buffalo and habanero flavors, respectively. They launched this year, as part of the company's efforts to frequently roll out new flavors to keep customers interested.

"Consumers expect more from a flavor. It's kind of like moving from regular TV to high-def TV," says Stephen Kalil, corporate executive research chef at Frito-Lay's Culinary Innovation Center. Mr. Kalil helps brainstorm new flavors and creates a natural version of a flavor in the kitchen that can be replicated in a lab.

"A lot of that flavor goes back to Asian and Szechuan cooking," says Kelly Sepcic, vice president of innovation at Frito-Lay. Sweet and spicy Doritos is another Asian-inspired product with soy, garlic and ginger flavors.

Cuisines like those from China and Thailand include extreme flavors, but, unlike the new burst of flavor in the U.S., they also assign great importance to achieving a balance between spicy and sweet, salty and refreshing, says Dr. Davis of the James Beard Foundation...

At Wrigley , the pace of gum flavor creation has accelerated dramatically in recent years. Wrigley introduced Juicy Fruit and Wrigley's Spearmint in 1893 and then waited for 20 years before introducing its next flavor, Doublemint. It wasn't until 1975 and 1976, respectively, that it introduced the next flavors Freedent and Big Red. Today, Wrigley releases about a dozen new flavors a year in the U.S. This fall it will offer Extra gum in fruity dessert flavors, including strawberry shortcake and Key lime pie.

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