Bakers and chefs are intrigued by the possibilities presented by seaweed beyond snacks and sushi. Sometimes it’s the rock star (as in sushi) and sometimes it’s just more of a background note (like powdered dulse); each seaweed has a different flavor profile,” according to Suzy Badaracco, trends forecaster and president of Culinary Tides, Tualatin, Oregon.
Dulse, a red algae, may be powdered and sprinkled over soup or pasta; pieces of kombu, a brown seaweed, may be used as a thickening agent.
“Seaweed is coming in in Hawaiian-Asian cooking,” she explains, where sheets of nori seaweed make an appearance in a Hawaiian wrap with lots of vegetables.
Chris Koetke, executive director of the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts in Chicago and vice-president of Culinary Arts for Laureate International Universities, Baltimore, agrees there’s a phenomenon around seaweed and algae as uniquely flavored ingredients that are steadily trending upward. “Seaweed brings together sustainability and nutrition; seaweed as seasoning, powdered seaweed — mix into whatever, perhaps seaweed bread — it is going to go somewhere.”
Flavors of the year
Badaracco and other culinary trendspotters sound off on the trends expected to make a flavor-filled impact through 2017.
Noting that florals “have been hanging out awhile,” Badaracco sees hibiscus, lavender and rosewater growing in usage. Florals have a bit more “refinement” to offer a product, she said, while citrus — such as lemon, lime and grapefruit — are strong, “as long as you go for a varietal and name the specific type (such as kefir lime or yuzu) for it to be cool,” she said.
Flower-specific honeys like kefir lime honey or orange blossom honey are poised to take off according to Badaracco and may well generate national demand, more so than the “zip code honeys” produced by hyper-local hives.
While attending the Produce Marketing Association trade show this year, chef John Csukor of Ashland, Virginia-based KOR Food Innovation was impressed by the extent of hybridizing and crossbreeding of classic fruits and vegetables “to create another flavor/texture/variety” that plays off of familiar citrus notes.
For example, Ruby Red grapefruit meets lime to create “the floral headiness of a lime — a mash-up with the sweet/bitter contrast of the grapefruit.”
Liz Moskow, creative culinary director for Boulder-based Sterling-Rice Group, sees the “sensational” flavor trend continuing to pack a wallop among consumers seeking an “extreme sensation” or “extreme reaction” to food. She sees chefs adding hot flavors like sriracha to vanilla ice cream for those Instagram-obsessed guests who “just want to have stuff to talk about, even briefly.”
Overall, spicy has become a core flavor profile according to Mintel, but it’s “a more layered experience with new flavor profiles creating the heat,” according to foodservice analyst Diana Kelter.
“In the QSR sector, spicy is the leading flavor. The flavor trend is also coordinating with regional trends. For example, KFC added a Nashville Hot Chicken Littles sandwich to their menu. The dish is described as featuring a perfect blend of spicy cayenne and smoked paprika,” she adds.
On the sandwich front
Chicken and bacon are, by far, the most popular proteins on sandwiches, but what’s next?
“The Technomic Lifecycle is pushing the envelope by showing us real-time ingredient innovation,” says Bernadette Noone, vice president at Technomic. “We've noticed with the growth of consumers' desires to remain healthy, that tofu is the leading cutting-edge protein used in sandwiches. Other ingredients like Muenster cheese, truffle aioli and English muffins were also identified as innovators in the sandwich category.”
On the other hand, Technomic often finds that ingredients can be mainstream in some meal categories, while being unique and competitive in others. A perfect example would be chipotle mayo. When paired with chicken sandwiches, it is often found in the mainstream part of the lifecycle, while adding it to steak sandwiches places it on the introductory and growth scale.
Some of the trendiest, most flavorful buzzwords showing promise for 2017 and beyond aren’t new. In fact, they have been talked about for some time, but they keep growing in menu mentions and retail applications. That is not surprising since trends tend to gather momentum before becoming ubiquitous then leveling and proving their staying power.
Trends don’t fade away as fads most surely do, she said. “There are long-term trends and short-term trends,” Badaracco says. Regardless of the trend shelf life, the strongest have crossties to other flavor trends as well as to trends outside of the food industry, such as in culture, technology, consumer interests, health and other fields.
What is most interesting about the flavors in the most current crop of trending tastes are that they are crossing the food and beverage divide, she explained, with flavors showing up outside of their expected category, across sweet, savory and beverage applications. For example, Badaracco cites smoke, char, tea, vinegar, alcohol flavors like bourbon, beets, pumpkin, natural sugars, chiles and florals as all showing crossover potential and adding to the excitement for flavors like honey or sriracha.
Combining the fermentation and seaweed trends, Moskow said the ongoing search for umami is evident because of the growing interest in seaweed, soy sauce and pungent cheese. “Chefs are experimenting with ways to add that umami flavor; the hunt is on to replace that flavor from meat by using mushrooms or various molds,” she explained. “Koji [mold] from Japan typically gives miso and soy sauce its fermented flavor, (with) mold being the catalyst.”
Moskow said she knows one chef who has added it to pork chops and another to vegan cheeses to create a sharp flavor. “I believe more fermented umami flavors will be replacing spicy flavors such as sriracha and other trendy peppers; umami is more of a deep, unctuous sort of salty-meets-rich-earthy-flavor.”
Similarly, she said mushrooms (powdered or dried) are “really hot” in teas and soups — along with seaweed — as a flavoring agent because it adds umami flavor.