Photo © AdobeStock.com/Natalia Klenova
Which flavors are hot in 2019? Leading flavor houses gave Nutritional Outlook their predictions for which flavors consumers will be looking for in food and drinks in the coming year. As has been the case with Nutritional Outlook’s previous yearly forecasts (2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014), the macro trend for 2019 appears again to be a balance between flavors that consumers find familiar and comforting alongside flavors that satisfy their craving for a flavor adventure.
“Americans have begun to step out of their comfort zones with the thirst to explore authentic and unconventional taste experiences,” said flavor firm Kerry (Beloit, WI) in a recent press release announcing the company’s 2019 Taste Charts predicting 2019 trends. “There is also a unique balance between nostalgic taste and avantgarde experiences that consumers seek today.”
Floral flavors have gained a following in recent years, and 2019 is no different. Firmenich (Geneva) has declared hibiscus as its 2019 Flavor of the Year “based on the growing appeal of florals in food and drink.”
“Hibiscus is a beautiful and tasty choice for 2019,” the company said in a press release, pointing to hibiscus’s appealing attributes, including its natural origin and “slightly tangy” profile. Firmenich points to global data from market researcher Mintel’s global consumer database indicating that the worldwide use of hibiscus in new food and beverage product launches has grown 300% since 2012. Hibiscus is becoming popular in yogurt, beer, tea, and chocolates, and is especially popular in the United States, Brazil, Mexico, and Denmark, with growth also happening in Spain and Italy.
Consumers are drawn to hibiscus for its many health benefits, says Firmenich, including its use in traditional medicine. “Hibiscus is more than just a pretty flower,” the company said. “Egyptians used hibiscus tea to lower body temperature and treat heart and nerve diseases. In African countries, the tea was used to treat cold symptoms, and pulp made from the leaves was applied to the skin to heal wounds. Recent studies show promise for both the tea and the hibiscus plant extract to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.”
Consumers looking for healthier, reduced-sugar beverages are also looking for flavors like hibiscus to replace sweetness and to “help deliver sensorial impact and provide interesting and novel taste experiences,” said Jeff Schmoyer, Firmenich’s vice president of global consumer insights, in the press release.
Currently, hibiscus’s most popular use has been as an infusion in beverages, but Firmenich expects applications to broaden. Fausto Carriles, a senior Firmenich flavorist in Latin America, pointed out that hibiscus has “a strong floral aroma,” alongside “a woody-astringent character” and “a subtle and delicate fruity undertone, even a hint of green like freshly cut mint leaves.” Hibiscus’s year-round appeal spans use in cold summer beverages to inclusion in “winter hot fruit punches,” Carriles added. Hibiscus is also popular in savory products. It is used in Mexican cuisine and ceviche applications and has been seen in savory foods such as enchiladas and dried hibiscus garlic chips, Firmenich says.
As mentioned, hibiscus also taps into a general growing appreciation for florals—driven, in part, by the visual appeal of florals, a powerful marketing tool. Of hibiscus, Firmenich says, “No doubt their ‘Instagrammable’ nature has helped propel them onto the mainstage along with their floral friends: lavender, elderflower, rose, and violet.”
Firmenich calls hibiscus “unusual but approachable,” noting that it balances new experiences with comfort—qualities that are infinitely sought by today’s generation of shoppers. Firmenich even likens hibiscus’s qualities with those attributed to Pantone’s 2019 Color of the Year: “Living Coral.” Pantone describes Living Coral as “vibrant yet mellow,” noting that it is a warm, lighthearted, joyful, and “nurturing color that appears in our natural surroundings and at the same time displays a lively presence within social media” and “provide[s] comfort.” The same can be said of hibiscus.
Lavender is another key floral flavor in 2019, says Synergy Flavors (Wauconda, IL). Synergy applications technologist Kayla Blanding says: “Going into 2019 and beyond, Synergy Flavors sees a bright future for lavender due to the fact that floral and botanical flavors continue to have widespread appeal.” She notes that while lavender alone hasn’t yet gone mainstream, “it pairs well with a variety of other flavors, including herbs, citrus, fruit, sweet flavors, and savory options as well.” In the culinary world, it’s still regarded as an artisanal flavor, appearing in stylish fare such as lavender lattes. Blanding notes that chefs and food manufacturers have put new twists on lavender, including “lavender smoke.” And, like Firmenich of hibiscus, she calls lavender “very Instagram-worthy.”
Comax Flavors (Melville, NY) is also firmly entrenched in the floral trend. Late last year, the company introduced its new Classic Floral Collection, representing the first flavor collection the company created in its new innovation center in Marlton, NJ. In a press release announcing the new collection, the company said, “Floral flavors are blooming and making their way into a variety of food and beverages. According to Technavio, the global floral flavors market is expected to grow at a CAGR of almost 10% during the period 2018-2022.” The Comax Classic Floral Collection includes: 1) honeysuckle (“mild sweet, fruity, citrus, and honeylike undertones” suited to fruit and dairy desserts and sweet sauces), 2) jasmine (a “classic white floral with mild fruity, rosy, and tea-like undertones” suited for tea and savory Asian dishes), 3) lavender (“subtle hints of citrus, mint, and peppery-like nuances” and that “pairs well with berry flavors such as blueberry and spicy notes” and is used in beverages, cream desserts, and seafood), 4) lilac (“sweet fruity and spicy nuances,” “commonly used in jams/jellies and as a background note in savory meat dishes”), 5) orange blossom (“works well with savory meat dishes and traditional desserts”), and 6) rose (“with very subtle spicy nuances and honey accords” that are “versatile” in tea, syrups, jams, and sweet desserts).
Flavor firm Kerry also notes the “interesting rise” in floral and botanical flavors, highlighting rose as an emerging flavor in sweet products, alongside chamomile and saffron.
Fruits and Veggies
Fruit- and vegetable-derived flavors remain a classic and expansive palette for formulators. Flavor firms note a few standouts in 2019—some of which consumers may be less familiar.
“Yuzu is a citrus fruit that is new to American consumers and generally very novel, but it has been making appearances across food and beverage categories more frequently as cultural influences and interest in diverse flavors increase,” says Synergy’s Blanding. Yuzu is grown in China and Tibet and is now seen in emerging categories like sparkling beverages, she says, adding that it “combines well with familiar and fruity flavors such as mint, apple, and lemon” and tastes like “a cross between grapefruit and lime.” In particular, Synergy predicts yuzu as a trending flavor in high-acid sports nutrition beverages.
Over in veggies, Symrise (Holzminden, Germany) calls kohlrabi, also known as “German turnip,” a “contender to be the next kale.” Emmanuel Laroche, vice president, marketing and consumer insights for Symrise, says kohlrabi “is sprouting up on menus across the U.S,” including in ice cream.
Even the most common flavors continue to hold court—including banana, says flavor firm Virginia Dare (Brooklyn, NY). “Banana is a familiar flavor, one that we expect to grow in 2019 as a way to upscale applications like ice cream, craft beers, smoothies, and more,” says Virginia Dare marketing and consumer insights manager Philip Caputo. “Because of its association with elegant desserts like bananas foster crème brûlée, banana cream pie, and banoffee pie, regular and caramelized banana is a flavor we anticipate seeing on more store shelves and menus.”
Some flavors are pegged as standouts in the sweet and savory field in 2019.
In its 2019 Taste Charts, under emerging flavors for sweet products, Kerry credits the following as having a newer, growing presence: nectarine, florals (again, chamomile, rose, and saffron), basil, guava, savory flavors (miso, rosemary, sea salt, olive oil, bacon, cheese, and chamoy), ube, horchata, buttermilk, passion fruit, cola, smoke, ginger, chai, wasabi, agrodolce, and plum.
In salty snacks, these are trending, Kerry says: lemon, thai curry, rosemary, pink peppercorn, sesame, pepperoni, chai, gochujang, truffle, seaweed, strawberry, piri piri, Korean BBQ, cranberry, basil, vanilla, maple, kimchi, cilantro, and ghee. And in savory products, Kerry predicts innovation with: finger limes, calamansi, karashi, baharat, chervil, nduja, sumac, galangal, sambal oelek, fish sauce, dukkah, nori, adobo, tahini, berbere, agrodolce, za’atar, togarashi, beer, and bagoong.
Honey, maple, and molasses are also strong performers, firms say. Megan Byrnes, marketing representative for Gold Coast Ingredients (Commerce, CA), says: “At Gold Coast Ingredients, we predict we’ll see a more outstanding variety of honey-flavored products on the market in 2019. Honey flavor has become popular in its simple, pure form, caramelized, as well as used to complement other flavors”—for instance, she says, pistachio and honey, milk and honey, lemon and honey, and orange and honey. Also, she adds, “Two other honey flavors to watch in 2019 are honeycomb candy flavor and chocolate honeycomb candy flavor.” Honeycomb candy remains a classic in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, but Trent reports seeing more activity in the U.S., especially in flavored dairy, bakery, and nutraceutical applications.
Maple is also an up-and-comer. “Pumpkin spice has led the fall flavor conversation the past few years, but we’ve started to notice a considerable migration toward maple,” says Virginia Dare’s Caputo. “Consumption of maple syrup—and, resultingly, use of the flavor—has grown in both the United States and Canada in the past two years, and we expect this trend to continue with new flavored spirits, coffees, lemonades, and more.”
Molasses also shows promise, says Synergy Flavors. Blanding says: “Synergy Flavors continues to see a constant need for sweet brown flavors, and molasses is an inspiring flavor that has yet to see major market growth. That will soon be changing because, like burnt caramel, molasses has the potential to intrigue consumers. It is a flavor that many are familiar with, evoking warmth, nostalgia, and feelings of homemade goodness.” In addition, Blanding says, molasses connotes a natural, “pure” image, and, she says, serves as a natural sugar replacer because it has the lowest sugar content among sugarcane products.
And Gold Coast’s Byrnes says crème brûlée continues to be a popular sweet flavor. “We foresee crème brûlée as an innovative indulgent flavor in 2019,” she says. “Flavors that have sparked our attention are traditional crème brûlée, cinnamon crème brûlée, pumpkin crème brûlée, and toffee crème brûlée. Product developers have experimented with crème brûlée flavors in protein supplements, snack foods, oatmeal, ice cream, and other sweet applications.”
Meanwhile, Kerry predicts that nostalgic sweet flavors—snickerdoodle, cookie dough, and s’mores—will continue to inspire the sweet flavor toolbox.
Smoked and Fermented
Increasingly, flavors in the smoked and fermented categories are finding more consumer fans.
Smoked flavors are becoming more sophisticated, Gold Coast’s Byrnes points out. “Keep an eye out for new and improved smoke-type flavors in 2019,” she says. “Subtle smoke flavor notes are added to both sweet and savory applications, such as nutrition bars and healthy snack mixes.”
Interestingly, she notes, Proposition 65 regulations regarding hazardous chemicals are driving fans of smoky flavors to seek out substitutes. “As a reaction to market demands, flavor companies are developing smoke-type flavors without any actual smoke,” she says. “Common smoke flavor profiles include hickory smoke and mesquite smoke, and we predict the smokeless smoke flavor trend will escalate in 2019 with flavor profiles such as applewood, maplewood, and cherrywood smoke-type flavors.”
Comax Flavors points to the continued growth of fermented flavors, including five spice kombucha, pickled beet and onion, and pickled peach. “Fermented and pickled foods and beverages are having a revival,” said the company in a recent press release predicting flavor trends for 2019. “This renewed interest is driven by consumers gravitating towards probiotics and friendly bacteria that support digestive health coupled with consumers’ interest in bold tastes.” Comax points to sales reports from market researcher SPINS showing that U.S. retail sales of refrigerated kombucha and other fermented beverages grew 37.4% to $556 million in 2017.
Around the World
Global flavors continue to make their mark stateside as consumers expand their taste horizons.
“I think the interest in global flavors will continue into 2019 and beyond,” says Roger Lane, marketing manager, savory flavors, Sensient Technologies (Milwaukee, WI). “Consumers are simply too tuned-in to what’s happening around the world for continued exploration not to happen.”
“As Americans gain more familiarity and affinity for international taste, Moroccan, Mediterranean, and Asian flavors continue to grow, such as agrodolce, baharat, bagoong, and many more,” says Soumya Nair, director of marketing insights for Kerry.
Increasingly sophisticated consumer tastes are influencing how formulators work with regional flavors. “Kerry’s predictions forecast that 2019 will bring further specificity to the origin of flavors as ingredients as consumers seek tastes that delight, surprise, and excite them,” Kerry said in its press release.
With specificity in mind, Sensient’s Lane says “hyper-regionalized” flavors are replacing more commonplace regional flavors. “For example,” he says, “Asian flavors have been around for ages, but we’re seeing interest in Macanese cuisine surge. It’s the perfect fusion food as it combines influences from South America, Europe, and Asia.”
As formulators put new flavors on consumers’ taste maps, marketing stories can also capitalize on the exotic background behind those ingredients. “Products that are created with ingredients that are traceable and have provenance claims can be the nudge that a casual browser needs to engage with a particular product,” says Keera Perumbala, marketing associate, sweet and beverage flavors, Sensient Technologies. “A ‘Brazilian orange’ carries more appeal than an ‘orange.’”
Indian cuisine is a huge interest area, says Comax Flavors. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen Indian ingredients such as cardamom, coriander, curry, and garam masala emerge,” said Catherine Armstrong, vice president of corporate communications, Comax Flavors, in a press release. “Comax thinks Indian food is ripe for the American palate,” she said. It inspired the company’s “Passage to India” flavor portfolio, which includes Indian vegetable curry, mango lassi, and masala spiced donut. These flavors are showing up in everything from savory products, dressings, and sauces to dairy, ice cream, plant-based applications, baked goods, and nutrition and performance products.
Virginia Dare also highlights India-inspired hybrid flavors. “This year, don’t be surprised to see consumers’ adventurous taste buds lead them to Indian-inspired flavors,” says Caputo. “Consumers love pairing the familiar with the exotic, and Indian flavors are an area we see benefitting from this. Look for hybrid flavors like cardamom mocha, cardamom white chocolate, chai caramel, chai molasses, garam masala gingersnap, maple cumin, and maple curry spice blend.”
Interest in Indian flavors is also driving the rise of marigold as a flavor, according to Symrise, which notes recent chef inspirations that include marigold syrup and muhammara with piquillo, almond, pomegranate, and marigold.
Japanese food continues to influence flavors here. Symrise’s Laroche calls shiso “more than just your sushi sidekick. It’s now being used as a flavor agent in dishes, drinks, and desserts.” Kerry’s Soumya Nair points to miso as a growing flavor trend. Russian cuisine and its focus on rich and hearty foods are also translating stateside, Symrise’s Laroche says.