Meat snacks continue to gain shelf space, especially at convenience stores. Depending on the meat, many flavors work well with meat snacks, said Jill Puckett, market development specialist for Kalsec Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan.
“I think in most cases, consumers expect savory and spicy flavors over sweeter profiles in meat snacks, though that does not exclude flavors such as fruit and honey from the application,” she said.
More traditional meat snack flavors include Worcestershire, steak sauce, barbecue, sweet-heat combinations that may have fruit inclusions, and specific pepper varietals such as jalapeño and ghost pepper.
“Global flavors always seem to be interesting to consumers and might include Cajun, harissa, piri piri and sriracha among others,” Puckett said. “Additionally, with the rise in popularity of premium products with a story, consumers are interested in understanding the culinary technique behind the flavor such as fire-roasted garlic, caramelized onion and sautéed sweet onion.”
Sweet and heat are a popular combination for meat snacks, said Christopher R. Warsow, director of culinary applications and corporate executive chef for Bell Flavors & Fragrances, Northbrook, IIIinois.
“Not just your average jalapeño anymore as well,” he said. “Interesting peppers and chilies from around the world are seeing traction. Everything from Hatch chili to Peruvian peppers are seeing their popularity gain.”
The rigorous cooking process involved in meat snacks means flavors need to be bold enough to come through in a product.
“Light and delicate flavors don’t make it through the extended cooking and drying process,” Warsow said. “Meat snacks also have an addition of a smoking process, so they need to be able to stand up to rich smoke flavors. Green and light herb flavors can be challenging. In emulsified or chopped and formed products, encapsulated flavors can be used that can protect the flavor through processing.”
Meat snacks traditionally are offered in formats like jerky and bites, but Land O’Frost Inc., Munster, Indiana, took a different direction last year. The company launched Gone Rogue high protein chips that deliver 17 grams of protein per serving. Flavors included chicken bacon, teriyaki chicken, Buffalo style chicken and barbecue flavored chicken.
“The chip format was a dynamic shift in the flavor application when compared to other meat products, which allowed for a wider range of ingredients and flavors to be applied topically to the product as opposed to being incorporated in from the start,” said John Downey, senior product developer for Land O’Frost. “Several challenges were presented, though, since a chip made from meat has a significantly stronger taste on its own than one would see in a regular chip and most meats. Furthermore, the texture and moisture level of this product drastically changed how the flavors came through, bringing forward flavor attributes different than what is normally seen in meat.”
Like meat snacks, burgers sold at restaurant chains are going bold. Combining flavors, like sweet and savory, sweet and spicy, and spicy and savory, has become a trend in burgers, Puckett said.
“The building of flavor through layering with sauces, and other ingredients such as fried eggs, bacon, jams and pickled ingredients, including fruits, seems to be popular among chefs and consumers alike with more and more interesting combinations popping up on local restaurant menus,” she said. “I think one of the biggest differentiators of burgers on chain menus is that they often can’t do crazy ingredient additions, so they really focus on signature sauces that consumers associate with their name and burger.”
Condiments and cheese are avenues for innovation in burger flavors, Warsow said.
“Harissa and gochujang are great additions to hamburgers,” he said. “Flavored mayos that contain these items have been ‘menuing’ well. Gochujang is a great addition because it adds so many layers of complex flavors: sweet, umami and heat.”
Burgers may feature artisan cheeses with provenance, he said, mentioning local cheeses from near where the restaurant is located as well as exotic cheeses from afar.
US Foods offers a Belly Burger with 30 percent pork belly and 70 percent ground beef, said Kathleen Hoffman, kitchens and national sales senior culinary manager for US Foods, a food service distributor with corporate offices in Rosemont, IIIinois.
“Combining these allows for unique flavor notes to come through, such as the smoky flavors of pork belly with the richness of beef, which elevates a classic hamburger to be an indulgent flavor experience,” she said.
An umami burger trend combines dark turkey meat with mushrooms and tomatoes.
“One of my favorites is combining lamb with beef, which can be used to create a perfect burger or slider application and delivers a well-rounded Mediterranean flavor profile,” Hoffman said.
Global flavors in restaurants
Ethnic/global flavors in meat, a trend in upscale restaurants, might end up in food service and retail, Puckett said.
“For specific flavors, we might be seeing Middle East and African and regional Asian flavors, as well as more traditionally accepted Italian and Mediterranean flavors,” she said.
Peruvian, Indian and Korean are trending meat flavors at upscale restaurants, Warsow said.
“Korean has been dabbling at the edges of mainstream for several years now,” he said. “It was started by Korean-inspired tacos popularized by Roy Choi (a chef). The flavors of Korea are coming through in popular culture. Now I think the whole cuisine is ready for prime time.”
US Foods turned to Latin American flavors for its Chef’s Line slow-cooked pork in achiote sauces, which is a slow-cooked pork shoulder with traditional Mexican-style spices, including annatto seeds. US Foods also offers a Patuxent Farms uptown fried chicken that is pre-coated in a light breading made of flour and corn starch with the sweetness of coconut milk and a gentle kick of berbere spice already present.
“Ethiopian flavors are another global flavor we’re seeing in meats,” Hoffman said. “Berbere seasoning is a great way to incorporate exciting flavors across a number of meat applications. However, finding authentic berbere seasoning can be challenging.”
She added, “Global flavors are no longer a trend. Diners expect to see unique, global flavors on the menu whether you are an upscale restaurant or casual dining. With a wide range of choices on menus today, and global flavors spanning thousands of possibilities, it’s important to differentiate center-of-plate menu items.”