From chardonnay cookies to chipotle mango scones, today’s consumers’ increasingly curious and sophisticated taste buds have bakers exploring the addition of all types of flavorful ingredients, from sweet and tropical to ethnic and fiery. The addition of this layer of flavor can be subtle, almost unidentifiable, or bold and characterizing.

“Millennials are less brand-loyal and are more experiential with their food and beverage choices. They are more interested in specialty offerings that include interesting new flavor profiles and combinations,” said Gary Augustine, executive director of market development for Kalsec, Kalamazoo, Mich. “This creates limitless opportunities to add value to traditional baked goods.”

Jim Boniecki, vice-president of technical sales for Flavorchem, Downers Grove, Ill., said, “Heat and spice blends in savory products have made inroads into baked goods. Reasons stem from the popularity of Asian and Hispanic fusions of flavor. In the past year, we have received many requests for unique blends such as citrus and spice.”

Bold and exciting

Research from Packaged Facts, Rockville, MD., indicated that 53% of consumers are seeking bolder flavors. Whereas some consumer segments, namely millennials, are willing to explore new foods and formats, older consumers can be reluctant. By applying these bolder, often ethnic flavors to familiar foods such as baked goods, bakers can bridge the gap from the familiar to the exotic. The key is to make sure they taste as described.

“Today’s consumers are looking for excitement and unique twists on nostalgic Americana favorites. The current overarching flavor trends are authentic Filipino/Southeast Asian, regional Mexican and Peruvian/Brazilian,” said Aaron Rasmussen, research chef for Bell Flavors & Fragrances Inc., Northbrook, Ill. “In addition, we have seen an increased demand for flavors of heirloom fruit varietals, artisan cheeses and craft beverages.”

Authentic is paramount. Varietals must deliver their signature taste. It’s not just orange; it’s blood orange. “Think Meyer lemon Earl Grey tea pound cake,” Mr. Rasmussen said.

Another developing trend is the combination of sweet profiles with non-traditional savory ingredients, such as sweet potato cupcakes, black pepper tea cookies or balsamic vinegar and strawberry scones, according to Dax Schaefer, corporate executive chef and director of culinary innovation for Asenzya Inc., Oak Creek, Wis.

“Honey is definitely trending in baked goods,” said Marie Le Beller, application laboratory manager for Prova US, Danvers, MA. “It is used as much for taste as for its healthful halo. But honey alone is often not powerful enough, or too expensive, and that’s why the use of an authentic honey flavor allows a more flexible formulation and a boost of flavor.”

Authentic flavor is imperative in the fresh baked goods sector, which consumers often perceive as being minimally processed and natural. For example, the popularity of artisan bread continues to rise and, along with it, the need for specialty flavors that can assist bakers in delivering an authentic artisan taste, according to Peggy Dantuma, director of bakery applications for Kerry, Beloit, Wis. “This can be achieved through the use of natural Italian bread, sourdough and grain flavors,” she said. “Flavors can help bakers capture the essence of rustic flavor in traditional foodservice breads, rolls and flatbreads.”

Flavors also assist with better-for-you formulations. “There’s increasing demand for high-protein bread and snack products,” Mr. Boniecki said. “From a flavor standpoint, these products tend to have bitter off-notes where masking agents can play an important role in improving taste.”

An ethnic twist

Likely the biggest flavor trend is in ethnic heat. By adding such flavors to everyday, all-American baked goods, consumers find comfort in the familiar and are more willing to explore new flavors they might otherwise be hesitant to try.

“As more people travel outside of the U.S. and experience other cultures, more innovation will hit our U.S. food markets, and the demand for more ethnically inspired foods will continue,” said John True, food scientist and director of regulatory compliance for Integrative Flavors, Michigan City, Ind.

According to Lisa Stern, vice-president of sales and marketing for LifeSpice Ingredients, Chicago, the fusion of unfamiliar flavors in everyday foods is stronger than it has ever been. “For example, ranch seasoning can be jazzed up with wasabi for an Asian take, poblanos for a Mexican twist or aji armarillo for Peruvian flare,” she said. “These flavors work topically on crackers and other snack foods.”

Consider a long-time American favorite. “Apple pie has long been served with a slice of cheddar cheese,” said Jean Heimann, culinary scientist with LifeSpice. “That cheddar could have chipotle peppers. As for New York-style cheesecake — well, how about giving it a twist with some matcha?”

Matcha is finely milled green tea powder made from premium green tea leaves. Its traditional use is in Japanese tea ceremonies, but it is fast becoming popular as an ingredient — in sweet and savory foods — for its healthy antioxidants, as well as its fresh and herbaceous taste, according to Rona Tison, senior vice-president of corporate relations for Ito En (North America) Inc., New York. “Innovative matcha applications include cheesecake and chocolate chip cookies. It also readily blends into coatings, frostings and icings, adding both color and flavor.”

Indeed, many traditional Asian flavors are being recreated in unique ways in familiar baked goods. “Imagine a mini cupcake with the sweet floral notes of lychee, topped with diced lychee fruit,” said Cindy Cosmos, senior flavor chemist at Bell Flavors & Fragrances.

Pairing ethnic ingredients, such as miso with butterscotch in a cookie filling or cardamom and pomegranate molasses in a pear upside-down cake, gives consumers a feeling of new and different, while still satisfying their desire for classic sweets, according to Mr. Rasmussen.

Asian desserts and flavors are also starting to grow on their own. “Pandan, a Southeast Asian plant with a nutty aroma of sweet coconut and jasmine rice, can be used to flavor a custard filling for Boston cream donuts or as a flavoring in the batter of a classic Southern coconut cake,” Mr. Rasmussen said. “Other Asian ingredients such as sweet red bean, ube, calamansi lime and coconut milk are showing up in traditional American sweet goods, while some more savory profiles, such as sriracha, gochujang, seaweed and toasted sesame are making their way into dinner rolls and crackers.”

Heating things up

Few ingredients can highlight a food like the wide range of flavor and heat profiles found in varietal chili peppers, according to Michael Swenson, director of business development at Sensient Natural Ingredients, Turlock, Calif. “From spicy to bitter to sweet to savory, chili peppers span the flavor wheel.”

There are more than 2,000 varietal chilies used in cuisines around the world. “Reaching deep into our Asian sources, we have identified some great hot red chili types like Byadgi and Devanur deluxe,” Mr. Swenson said. “From our South American growers, we source milder, sweeter varietals such as mirasol and panca.” All of these can be incorporated into baked goods, either as a subtle addition or as a big, bold, characterizing flavor.

“When we pair savory and sweet, or sweet and heat, finding the right ‘bridge’ that offers the perfect balance between the two is important,” said Nestor Ramirez, division chef at Sensient Natural Ingredients. “People love macarons, and we’ve seen many fruity or nutty flavors in the market. There is opportunity to update the sweet fillings with chili, but going with habanero would be too far. A chili with mild-to-medium heat that complements fruits and nuts would be ideal, like guajillo, jalapeño or aji panca, and then we have new macaron flavors like guajillo berries, jalapeño pistachio and aji panca mango.”

Bell recently launched a line of sweet to fiery-hot pepper flavors to spice up any taste profile. “With one in four people throughout the world eating chili peppers every day, we see a growing captivation with the range of flavors and heat that chili peppers deliver,” said Kelli Heinz, director of marketing and industry affairs. “In the U.S., we see many embracing exciting new varieties, such as the aji amarillo from Peru, which has more fruity notes, or the guajillo from Mexico, which has more sweet and smoky notes.”

Using some of these varietals, along with other flavorful ingredients, makes it possible to turn familiar baked goods into an adventure. Peppers work particularly well in flatbreads, tortillas and snack crackers. But desserts are not off limits.

“Interesting new flavors include combining citrus with herbs and spices, such as white pepper, lime and vanilla in granola bars, cupcakes frosting and cookies,” Mr. Augustine said. “We see some interest in trying pepper extracts, such as cayenne and chipotle in chocolate brownies and cookies, or cinnamon combined with capsicum in quick breads and cinnamon rolls.”

Fresh from the farm

Dairy flavors, which run the gamut of cheddar cheese to sour cream to yogurt, have long been used in both sweet and savory baked goods, either alone or in combination with spices and seasonings. Think cheddar jalapeño bagels, sour cream and onion crackers and yogurt-coated granola bars. To appeal to consumers’ more sophisticated taste preferences, Edlong Dairy Technologies, Elk Grove Village, Ill., recently rolled out a line of European cheese flavors that can take a baked good from mainstream to specialty.

“Familiar favorite profiles of Brie, Camembert, Comte, Edam and Gouda, for example, connect with today’s adventurous consumer who appreciates sophisticated tastes,” said Jen Lowry, Edlong’s vice-president of sales and marketing. “These cheese flavors create authentic profiles at a fraction of the cost of the artisanal cheese.” Prototypes include an almond and cherry Gouda protein bar and gluten-free Gruyere crackers.

Fruit continues to do well in baked goods, but today’s foodie-inspired consumer wants more than the basic raspberry or cherry. “We are seeing a lot of fruit flavors with a twist,” said Greg Kaminski, executive research chef for Synergy Flavors, Wauconda, Ill. Unexpected pairings include blueberry lime, grapefruit hibiscus and honey fig.

“Some of the combination flavors are used to complement one another,” Mr. Kaminski said. “When we think of grapefruit on its own, it can be perceived as sour, too tart or polarizing, but when put together with hibiscus, the consumer now thinks of floral, sweet and subtle. These flavor blends are showing up in everything from protein bars to cupcake icings to biscotti cookies.”

Baked goods have enjoyed a revolution in the past decade where almost nothing is off limits. Mr. Schaefer concluded, “Baked goods are much more versatile than they have been given credit for.”