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

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3. East Africa and Southern India
Consumers are demanding new, unique, and authentic flavors that take them to exotic destinations that they may or may not have visited. “Any flavor that transforms a product or menu item into an experience will undoubtedly be popular in 2018 and onward,” says Shannon Cushen, director of marketing at Fuchs North America. “This includes flavors that take global or regional inspiration, have unique or sophisticated ingredients, combine unexpected taste profiles, or have some sort of nostalgic quality. … Consumers are demanding foods that aren’t just for eating; they’re for experiencing.”

Specifically, while Cushen sees Latin, Mediterranean, and Asian cuisines continuing to be popular, she foresees “new ethnic cuisine types and flavors popping up more frequently, like African, Indian, and Eastern European.”

This resonates with McCormick’s newly announced 2018 Flavor Forecast, which lists “A Bite of East Africa” as one of five trends on the company’s radar for the coming year. “East Africa is a treasure trove of flavor,” notes the company. “Finally, the signature seasonings, BBQ marinades, and sauces of Tanzania and Ethiopia are being discovered across the globe.”

Ethiopian berbere spice blendAmong these flavors is the Ethiopian berbere spice blend, which contains an array of spices like paprika, allspice, coriander, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and red pepper. According to McCormick, “it’s hot, sweet, and citrusy flavor is perfect for chicken stew and meats as well as lentils and vegetables.”

Currently, berbere can be found as a seasoning on some snack food products, such as Spice Foods’ Ethiopian Berbere Dry Roasted Almonds. With other flavors inspired by Argentina and the Middle East, Spice Foods claims its mission is to “bring global destinations to your daily grind.”

The East African spice blend is also showing up on a larger scale in Kashi’s Teff Thins, a line of gluten-free crackers inspired by African culinary recipes. Launched in August 2016, they are available in Tomato Lentil Berbere, Red Sea Salt, and Lemon Chickpea Chili.

Another cuisine that will become more familiar to American diners is that of Southern India. Americans are already familiar with Northern Indian cuisine, which features a strong Persian influence that uses creams and butter in sauces, as well as meats and nuts. Southern Indian cuisine is less well known and is characterized by hot spices, the sour flavor of tamarind, and a heavy use of rice and lentils in stews and dosas (somewhat similar to the Ethiopian injera).

According to Technomic report data supplied by SupHerb Farms, 31% of consumers—including 45% of Gen Zers and 42% of Millennials—would like to see more Indian influences on restaurant menus. Additionally, the data show that 25% of consumers seek out different regional Indian cuisine experiences but that just 17% know the culinary differences among the various regions (2017). This will require restaurants and food manufacturers to educate consumers and offer balance by leveraging products (ingredients, sauces) from known brands to increase consumers’ willingness to try dishes featuring unusual flavors.

This fall, Fuchs North America debuted a South Asian Collection of seasonings, bases, and flavors aimed at this very trend. One of the four seasoning blends—Kerala Style Lamb Curry Seasoning—is inspired by the state in Southern India that rose to fame for its production of spices such as black pepper, cardamom, and cinnamon.

The Chaat Co. yogurt snacksIn the consumer packaged goods world, The Chaat Co., based in New York City, received $1 million in seed funding in August from India-based Jain Farm Fresh Foods to help with the launch of its savory yogurt snacks inspired by the flavors and ingredients of Indian street snacks commonly known as “chaat.” Tangy Sweet Tamarind & Date Chutney is one of five flavors the company offers, and each flavor has crunchy lentil puffs as toppings.

4. Herbs and Botanicals

Some of the most innovative flavor combinations surface first in cocktails due to mixologists’ love for experimentation and consumers’ acceptance of more complex flavor profiles in their alcoholic beverages. In the past couple of years, the demand for healthier and fresher ingredients has led to a revolution in the craft cocktail segment. Sweet and sour mix is out, and bartenders are creating housemade juices, syrups, bitters, shrubs, and sodas using fresh herbs, botanicals, and spices.