Sweet, savory, spicy, sour … anything goes in baked foods as consumers crave adventure for their palates. Yet consumers don't just want bold flavors — they want exciting flavor profiles paired with a clean label.

“Across all categories of food products, more and more labels now claim that the product contains no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives,” says Anton Angelich, group vice-president of Virginia Dare. “Product developers now routinely — almost without exception — ask their suppliers for natural or organic-compliant flavors.”

To make natural flavors more relevant to baked foods, ingredient suppliers are expanding their lines with adventurous taste profiles and economic solutions. Although the toolbox of raw materials may be limited when it comes to developing natural flavors, this has not stopped flavorists from innovation. 

“We have created some fun ones lately, such as mountain berry, hibiscus, and speculoos,” says Cyndie Lipka, senior flavorist for Prinova USA. “We have also focused on developing standard flavors very well so that they taste like the actual food, such as banana, black cherry, and wild blueberry.”

There’s been a great deal of innovation using ethnic flavors in baked foods. Millennials, in particular, are drawn to foods and flavors that turn eating into an experience.

“Adding ethnic twists to familiar baked foods and snacks does just that,” says Shannon Cushen, director of marketing, Fuchs North America. The company’s South Asian collection features a Kashmiri spiced carrot cake mix, which puts an ethnic twist on a classic. Another seasoning for baked foods features Moroccan ras el hanout baked into a sugar or molasses cookie.

“It tastes just like a gingersnap at first, but finishes with some spicy heat,” Ms. Cushen says.

Gold Coast Ingredients recently rolled out savory natural flavors with applications in baked foods. This includes spicy queso, dairy-free goat cheese, hot seaweed, chimichurri, and vegetarian chorizo.

“These flavors can be used in tortillas, crackers, pretzels and other baked snacks,” says Megan Trent, marketing, Gold Coast Ingredients. “On the sweet side, we have newly developed coffee-banana, cinnamon dulce de leche, honey bourbon, turmeric-mango-habanero, spiced fig, and baklava flavors.”

Ms. Trent added that there is increased interest in allergen-free nut flavors, and the company’s portfolio now includes allergen-free almond, macadamia, peanut, pecan, and walnut.

Kerry offers bake-stable natural flavors in fruits, berries, mints, and other interesting combinations, says Amy Peterkes, senior research and development scientist at Kerry. The flavors were designed for frozen and refrigerated dough products, as well as dry mixes. The company has been working on a line of natural grilled fruit combinations for fine baking applications, and it has gotten creative with coffee and tea flavors.

“With the growing popularity of cold-brew coffee beverages, non-beverage manufacturers are trying to capitalize on the flavor trend,” says Mary Reynolds, research scientist, bakery, Kerry Ingredients. “We have been featuring our cold-brew coffee extract in a muffin application with cream-flavored filling and a chocolate-covered coffee bean on top.”