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Americans are building up a resistance to long-standing, one-dimensional flavors in favor of complex pairings, global ingredients, and interesting textures, according to a survey of culinary experts across the U.S. conducted by Kettle Brand, which is known for its bold flavored potato chips.
As part of an effort to stay one step ahead of the evolving palate, Kettle Brand talked with leading chefs, bakers, artisan food makers, and writers to get their pulse on current taste preferences. All agreed Americans are looking for bigger flavor, from spicy and peppery to tangy and smoky, in everything from ice cream to sandwich spreads and snack foods.
“Culinary experts across the country validated a trend toward what we at Kettle Brand call ‘flavor seekers’—consumers who now embrace exotic taste profiles as ordinary, everyday flavors,” says Kettle Brand chief flavor architect and lead flavor developer, Carolyn Ottenheimer. “Americans today require a new level of flavor intensity to be satisfied, and we at Kettle Brand are working to provide that.”
With 84 percent of Americans open to trying new and different flavors, according to a recent Mintel study, the call for flavor intensity is driving the food industry’s use of uncommon ingredients and inspiring tastemakers to explore unfamiliar territories to satisfy evolving palates.
Specific trends expected to explode in 2014, according to the tastemaker panel, are Asian flavors, peppers and peppercorns, and upgrades to classic staples.
Ethnic foods are becoming commonplace, with Mintel data showing that in any given month approximately two-thirds of Americans are choosing Asian food when going out. Expanding on this trend in 2014, Ottenheimer predicts ingredients like ginger and fish sauce will become standby ingredients in everything from marinades to mashed potatoes. And Houston’s Chris Shepherd, owner and chef of Underbelly, sees Vietnamese and Korean influences, particularly in sweet-and-spicy combinations, and even expects more Vietnamese baking spices, like star anise, clove, fennel, and cinnamon, to be used in traditional holiday dishes. Even in unexpected places, like at Portland, Oregon, specialty ice cream shop Salt & Straw, creative director, Tyler Malek, is experimenting with fermented flavors used in Asian cooking.
Consumers are experimenting now more than ever with smoky and spicy flavors that come from peppercorns and peppers. San Francisco-based POPSUGAR food editor Susannah Chen has observed chipotle peppers adding smoky heat to common foods like sandwich spreads and salts. New York’s James Distefano, executive pastry chef at Rouge Tomate, agrees. He is experimenting with combinations of black, white, green and pink peppercorns to deliver unexpected flavor experiences.
Traditional, simple dishes and products are being reinvented with a focus on intensifying key flavors. Malek agrees, commenting that the core flavors in root beer, chocolate, and vanilla are coming back but in a bold way. Lisa Bonjour, pastry chef at MK, is playing with flavor balance, adding a mix of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter elements to traditionally one-dimensional, sweet comfort foods, such as her carrot cake with pickled carrots and raisins. Jodi Elliott, pastry chef at Foreign & Domestic in Austin, Texas, also uses salty-sweet-spicy profiles inspired by late night fast food cravings to dream up creations like her brownie sundae with french fries on top.
As chefs and product developers seek to satisfy more developed palates, inspiration often comes from unexpected places. Shepherd gathers ideas from the Houston Texans tailgaters, Malek recalls fondly the Thai sundaes he ate while traveling throughout Asia, Elliott sees potential on fast food menus and bright ideas spark when Distefano is simply folding laundry. Known for bold, unique potato chip flavors, Kettle Brand has dedicated more than 30 years to examining food trends in order to deliver flavors like Spicy Thai, Honey Dijon, and Maple Bacon. Ottenheimer looks toward regional tastemakers, global food trends, and consumer research to perfect each new product, this year focusing on dialing up flavor for even bigger, bolder snacking.