The 5 Drivers of Savory/Snack Flavors

Snacking is an ever-growing $34.8 billion category that has achieved the status of “the fourth meal” (see The Future of Snack Flavors in the July issue of Perfumer & Flavorist magazine). We recently asked Scott Harris, director of marketing at Givaudan, to outline the main drivers shaping contemporary savory/snack flavors. While he highlighted the importance of bold but balanced flavors, a desire for ethnic tastes, a focus on health and wellness, and a number of other key factors are the true engines of the category.

1. Ethnic

“Origin and authenticity are the underlying principles,” says Harris. “Consumers are taking things beyond Hispanic and Asian and getting more specificity in regionality—in Cubano, Spanish, Szechuan or Thai-inspired.” This, says Harris, is part of the evolution of fusion, moving away from what has come to be called “confusion cooking.” This evolution involves “bringing elements together that are traditionally familiar with those that are slightly foreign, bringing the advent of exploration, while remaining close to what is known.”

In addition, Harris points to the rise of the Mediterranean diet as the next big movement, delivering simplistic yet complex flavor profiles. “For instance,” he says, “olive oils and their use across menu items and as a highlight element to an entree, not just a base flavor, but evoking the origin or regional flavor differences and making them stand out.” In addition, the range of countries in the region from which these influences are being drawn is increasing, particularly North Africa. Harris also notes that the rise of the Mediterranean diet is not just a culinary movement, but a lifestyle trend as well, encompassing concepts of naturalness, health and wellness.

2. Back to Basics

“A return to slow food continues to grow in popularity,” says Harris. This return to basics and comfort food, he says, reflects a desire for warmth and nostalgia. Yet it also dovetails with a sense of health and wellness. “A demand for cleaner label products is also prevalent,” says Harris. “Combined with the slow food, or close-to-source ingredient push, the theme is related to having the original flavor profile present, [without] sacrifice due to processing.” In this same vein, Harris also points to the growing popularity of sous-vide (“under vacuum” in French) cooking, a well known low-heat, slow-cooking method employing airtight plastic bags that is intended to keep ingredients unadulterated. Similarly, Harris points out that “Amish continues to have an increasing popularity.” While Amish traditions tend to have clean, natural and back-to-basics connotations (though some sects are quite modernized), there is no true rigid definition as in “organic.” Still, Harris says, the underlying desire is to return flavor profiles to where they were “prior to the advent of over-processing.”

3. Health and Wellness

As always, sodium reduction/salt taste enhancement and fat replacement are main points in this category. But there’s more driving this aspect. “From a regulatory perspective,” says Harris, “cleaning the ingredient statement to something more consumer friendly continues to drive organizations to benefit consumers. Utilization of natural flavors and ‘source-first’ ingredients (such as food bases with meat as a primary component) are critical to this movement.” He explains that successfully addressing health and wellness issues means “being able to deliver on flavor expectations without the use of unfriendly ingredients or those with ‘chemical sounding’ elements.”

4. New Delivery Methods

“Being able to deliver flavor in ways not possible in prior years,” says Harris, is key. This means encapsulating flavors to allow depth and layering in profiles and to deliver the flavor at the right time—at the onset, middle or being able to deliver a long lingering note, depending on application. In addition, Harris notes that flavor delivery increasingly must protect flavors during cooking processes. Consumers are becoming more sophisticated and are increasingly aware of individual components within flavors, making flavor protection essential.

5. Adding Sweet to Savory

Harris views the incorporation of flavors such as vanilla, traditionally perceived as a sweet application, in savory applications as bringing an “unexpected dimension to the world of savory—such as soup.”

“Combining elements of fruits in salsas or marinades has been prevalent for years,” he says, “but taking elements such as espresso or coffee and incorporating them into a pork loin rub or vinaigrette, or bringing Hispanic elements to traditional North American cuisine” are more recent innovations. “Combine this with the ethnic drivers,” says Harris, “and you begin to expand on the potential and open the door to new levels of creativity and global ingredients.”

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