The Future of Flavor Kelly Hensel | December 2017, Volume 71, No.12

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2. Fermentation
Closely tied in many ways to the alcohol infusion trend, the use of fermentation is coming front and center not only as a technique for food preparation but also as a unique flavor profile. The popularity of home brewing in addition to the growing interest in global cuisines has introduced a wider audience to the pungent and tangy flavors created from fermentation.

Denver Chef Jensen Cummings is so passionate about fermentation that he created Brewed Food in 2014 as a “Food Lab & Culinary Movement.” He utilizes beer’s building blocks (yeast, malt, and hops) and brewing processes to “fashion thrilling foodstuffs that blur the line between ales and edibles” (Draft 2017). His creations include wild yeast–fermented kimchi, cherry sriracha fermented with brewing yeast, and bacon rimmed in hop ash.

As an added perk, the fermentation process also creates beneficial bacteria—probiotics—that may positively affect the gut microbiome. “As consumers look to products with simple ingredients, those that serve a dual function—that of imparting taste and functionality—will be increasingly important,” says Edouard Janssen, senior vice president and general manager for Solvay Aroma Performance.

While American consumers are obviously familiar with fermented products such as yogurt, cheese, beer, and bread, they are also increasingly becoming familiar with products like kombucha that tout the health benefits derived from fermentation. The fact that in 2016, beverage giant PepsiCo acquired KeVita—a fermented probiotic and kombucha start-up that launched in 2009 from a kitchen in Ojai, Calif.—is proof that the kombucha trend has gone mainstream. According to Markets and Markets, the global kombucha market is predicted to grow from $600 million in 2015 to $1.8 billion by 2020 (2015).

KvassChina, where kombucha was developed, is certainly not the only country to have a history of fermented beverages. Perhaps kvass, an Eastern European fermented drink that has been around for 1,000 years and is traditionally made with rye bread and veggies, will be the next kombucha. One of only a handful of U.S. kvass manufacturers is start-up Maverick Dog, based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Founded this year, the company produces four varieties of the nonalcoholic tangy beverage: Original, Hops, Cranberry, and Honey.

Another product that dates back thousands of years and one that Elizabeth Moskow, culinary director at Sterling-Rice Group, believes will start getting the attention it deserves in the coming years is koji. It’s a fermented product made by treating rice or soy beans with Aspergillus oryzae, a mold that adds a distinct flavor. This is then used to make soy sauce, Chinese fermented black bean paste, Korean fermented bean paste, rice wine, and Japanese miso and sake. What do all those products have in common? A strong umami essence that is caused by koji breaking down proteins to produce glutamate—the amino acid responsible for a rich, savory flavor.

“The umami wave isn’t new for 2018, but it will deepen and broaden in the coming years as consumers look to educate their palate beyond sweet and savory,” says Moskow. “Pickles and brined vegetables—kimchi—were very hot in 2017 as was fermented dairy, but I believe this is just the gateway into exploration of other and deeper fermentation flavor profiles.”

Moskow predicts that the American palate may be ready to explore these “richer and more pungent flavors” within categories such as fermented grain, tofu, and meat. One example is injera, an Ethiopian flatbread made from teff flour. Traditionally, it is made by allowing wild yeast to form during days-long fermentation, resulting in a flatbread with a unique, slightly spongy texture and a tangy, sour taste.

Injera is just one example of a fermented food that most Americans are unaware of. According to Roger Lane, Sensient Flavors’ marketing manager for savory flavors, one need only look to any global cuisine to see the ubiquity of fermented flavors. “If one looks from a global perspective, there are fermented flavors found in almost every culture, and they’re just waiting to be mined for inspiration,” says Lane.