The popularity of vanilla has significantly evolved over the years and with this, the number of new products flavored with the ingredient is still growing globally. According to Innova Market Insights, new vanilla-flavored products increased by 24 percent over the last five years. With its round and versatile taste, the classic spice can be used in a widening variety of applications, bringing new formats to the fore. FoodIngredientsFirst speaks with key vanilla suppliers, who share their insights on new flavor opportunities.
“Some products play on combining flavors in one culinary creation and thus offering richer experiences to their customers,” says Kévin Bangratz, Marketing Researcher at Prova. “Vanilla is at the forefront in the field of flavor combinations,” he details. The most common combination is vanilla and milk chocolate. “There are many two-tone products with vanilla and chocolate swirls. In the same vein, vanilla ice creams are often coated with milk chocolate, comforting the idea that vanilla and chocolate match up perfectly.”
Traditional flavor combinations such as vanilla and strawberry will forever remain classics, according to Sinja Mayer. However, she also explains that as manufacturers are beginning to assess vanilla’s untapped potential, the US-based supplier is seeing increasingly exotic blends being used. “Orange and other citrus fruits are proving popular, as consumers seek out more unusual sour flavors, as is the use of vanilla alongside other botanicals and flowers.”
For Sri Nagarajan, the most common pairing with vanilla is chocolate. “Leaving it out of the equation brings a whole different perspective,” she muses.
“Vanilla is a versatile flavor ingredient that can be used in both savory and sweet applications. Largely used in the dairy industry, including in ice creams and yogurts, it also frequently appears in baked goods and desserts,’ says Craig Nielsen.
Vanilla has a recognizable, popular aroma and scent which often stands on its own, but because of its ability to enhance other ingredients and flavors, it often appears in other products, he affirms. “For example, in chocolate, vanilla adds a depth of flavor and makes your chocolate taste more like chocolate,” adds Nielsen.
“Today, vanilla is known for both its own warm, comfortable flavor that often evokes feelings of nostalgia, as well as an enhancer that brings out the depth of other flavors.”
Recently, Nielsen-Massey has seen an increased interest in plant-based beverages as consumer demand for dairy-free has risen. “One key concern that consumers have about purchasing plant-based dairy alternatives is taste. Traditional flavors, like vanilla, can mask off-flavors while enhancing other flavors to bring out their full potential,” he comments.
“When it comes to fruit- and nut-based drinks, as well as other beverages like smoothies or spirit cocktails, vanilla can be an important ingredient because it helps meld flavors together to enhance the overall taste.” Each Nielsen-Massey distinct origin vanillas offers its own flavor notes, ranging from cherry, chocolate, cinnamon and clove, meaning that by simply using nontraditional origins with different flavor profiles, our customers can differentiate their products, details Nielsen.
Winning vanilla combinations
Vanilla can easily be combined with other brown flavors, such as nuts and additional sweet notes, including caramel, honey and maple and spicy notes like cinnamon. “Flavor combinations seen more recently include toffee and cookie, along with fruit flavors, such as orange, mango and cherry,” explains Nagarajan.
“Some up-and-coming concepts we noticed are coconut and vanilla, vanilla chai, vanilla and whiskey and vanilla with black sesame,” notes Bangratz.
“These associations are no longer the exclusive privilege of high-end gastronomy: the food industry is now actively surfing on this uncanny marriage, clearly reflecting the expansion of ‘Swavory’ trends,” Bangratz continues. Prova is building a collection of new prototype applications that features “Swavory” concepts, such as vanilla in barbecue sauces or salad dressings.
“We’ve noticed interesting products riding the ‘Swavory’ trend and using vanilla. The most surprising product we discovered was a pack of sausages flavored with vanilla milk,” adds Bangratz. “Even chefs are tapping into the vanilla pairings, with scallops marinated in vanilla infused oil, or butternut squash soup with a vanilla whipped cream.”
He also highlights how the company has observed vanilla’s applicability across several staple savory categories, such as salty snacks, dressings or even meat. “Additionally, vanilla is increasingly paired with Himalayan pink salt, which helps create exquisite spice blends,” he asserts.
For Jonathan Barroso, new combinations are emerging beyond mainstream synergies of vanilla. “Nuts, grains and seeds are more frequently matched with vanilla, as well as botanical and infusion tastes,” he reveals.
Vanilla is also often used in ethnic or exotic products to keep consumers interested. “Emerging ingredients such as baobab or tonka bean are often combined with vanilla to create a landmark for the consumer and keep one foot in the comfort zone,” notes Barroso.
The major stake is to find the perfect vanilla profile to match these ingredients while not hiding them behind a too intense vanilla note. Examples include Selim pepper-vanilla, rooibos-vanilla, lavender-vanilla.
“From ethnic trends to botanicals, passing through various spices – interesting combinations with vanilla have been created. Examples include Selim pepper-vanilla, rooibos-vanilla, lavender-vanilla,” adds Pelletier.
Vanilla is an excellent match for dairy-based applications, especially ice cream, flavored milk and desserts. “Vanilla also pairs well with dairy sugar and fat, where it provides a boost in mouthfeel and enhances indulgence,” she affirms.
On the other end, vanilla remains popular in chocolate and high protein beverages and high protein yogurts to mask the bitterness and the astringency of cocoa and protein, she adds.
She believes the flavor of vanilla will hold its ground. “Its aroma is so tantalizing yet so subtle, and it is easy to attribute to artisan food and beverages. We associate vanilla with childhood memories and frequently associate the taste with indulgence in comfort foods,” Nagarajan explains.
Moreover, vanilla is also retaining its marketability through its wide use in cocktails and ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages such as coffees, through syrups. “Colas are often flavored with vanilla,” adds Nagarajan, highlighting that there may also be untapped opportunities for pairings beyond soft drinks.
“The highest demand for vanilla remains in the most established categories of dairy-based products as well as sweet baked goods and desserts. We also see a growing demand for vanilla in coffee-based beverages,” she notes.
Vanilla has tremendous potential to be used more within the beverage industry. “Although it is common to see it used in carbonated soft drinks and hot beverages, its full potential is untapped when it comes to juices and smoothies. In these applications, vanilla can enhance overall taste and as a pairing with other flavors, providing a solution for brands looking to reduce sugar in beverages,” she comments.
A universal taste here to stay
Vanilla is pegged as one of the most well-liked flavors across the world and commonly referred to as the “queen of flavors.” “It goes well with so many other flavors and enhances the taste of anything it’s added to,” Mayer explains.
“Vanilla’s universal taste and enticing aroma make it an ideal choice for foods that consumers look to as ‘feel-good’ treats, such as ice cream and desserts. As demand for naturally derived flavors grows, the popularity of vanilla endures,” she enthuses.
“Although Bourbon or Madagascar vanilla remains the most recognizable origin claim, other regions are becoming more popular for vanilla cultivation, such as Papua New Guinea, where Vanilla Tahitensis with its unique floral and cherry-like aroma is grown,” Mayer concludes.