Bakers, chefs push new boundaries with flavors

by John Unrein
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Dulse
Dulse, a red algae, may be powdered and sprinkled over soup or pasta.

SAN FRANCISCO — Bakers and chefs are intrigued by the possibilities presented by seaweed beyond snacks and sushi. Sometimes it’s the rock star (as in sushi) and sometimes it’s just more of a background note (like powdered dulse); each seaweed has a different flavor profile,” said Suzy Badaracco, trends forecaster and president of Culinary Tides, Tualatin, Oregon.

Dulse, a red algae, may be powdered and sprinkled over soup or pasta; pieces of kombu, a brown seaweed, may be used as a thickening agent.

“Seaweed is coming in in Hawaiian-Asian cooking,” she explained, where sheets of nori seaweed make an appearance in a Hawaiian wrap with lots of vegetables.

Chris Koetke, executive director of the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts in Chicago and vice-president of Culinary Arts for Laureate International Universities, Baltimore, said there is a phenomenon around seaweed and algae as uniquely flavored ingredients that are steadily trending upward.

“Seaweed brings together sustainability and nutrition; seaweed as seasoning, powdered seaweed — mix into whatever, perhaps seaweed bread — it is going to go somewhere,” he said. 

Flavors of the year

Ms. Badaracco and other culinary trendspotters sound off on the trends expected to make a flavor-filled impact through 2017.

Noting that florals “have been hanging out awhile,” Ms. Badaracco sees hibiscus, lavender and rosewater growing in usage. Florals have a bit more “refinement” to offer a product, she said, while citrus — such as lemon, lime and grapefruit — are strong, “as long as you go for a varietal and name the specific type (such as kefir lime or yuzu) for it to be cool,” she said.

Honey
Flower-specific honeys like kaffir lime honey or orange blossom honey are poised for growth.

Flower-specific honeys like kaffir lime honey or orange blossom honey are poised to take off, Ms. Badaracco said, and may well generate national demand, more so than the “zip code honeys” produced by hyper-local hives.

While attending the Produce Marketing Association trade show this year, chef John Csukor of Ashland, Va.-based KOR Food Innovation was impressed by the extent of hybridizing and crossbreeding of classic fruits and vegetables “to create another flavor/texture/variety” that plays off of familiar citrus notes.

For example, Ruby Red grapefruit meets lime to create “the floral headiness of a lime — a mash-up with the sweet/bitter contrast of the grapefruit.”

Liz Moskow, creative culinary director for Boulder, Colo.-based Sterling-Rice Group, sees the “sensational” flavor trend continuing to pack a wallop among consumers seeking an “extreme sensation” or “extreme reaction” to food. She sees chefs adding hot flavors like sriracha to vanilla ice cream for those Instagram-obsessed guests who “just want to have stuff to talk about, even briefly.”

Overall, spicy has become a core flavor profile, according to Mintel, but it’s “a more layered experience with new flavor profiles creating the heat,” said food service analyst Diana Kelter.

“In the Q.S.R. sector, spicy is the leading flavor,” Ms. Kelter said. “The flavor trend is also coordinating with regional trends. For example, KFC added a Nashville Hot Chicken Littles sandwich to their menu. The dish is described as featuring a perfect blend of spicy cayenne and smoked paprika.”

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