It is not accurate to say flavor trends are shifting from sweet to savory, but it is accurate to note the influx of new flavor trends that tend to have a savory positioning. Whether it is beverages or other traditionally sweet applications, manufacturers are striving to capitalize on the consumer’s willingness to experiment.
“At food service we are seeing beverages featuring non-sweet flavors emerging,” said Lauren Williams, beverage flavors North America marketing manager for Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Ill. “Some of these include flavored waters, cold-pressed juices, shakes and smoothies, and the flavors may range from coconut and jalapeño to peanut butter.”
Colleen McClellan, director of client solutions for Datassential, said savory flavors became a trend 8 to 10 years ago.
“The first movement was salty snacks,” she said. “Then it started to expand with bacon everywhere, in ice cream and chocolate. That was when there was a convergence of salty and sweet. You’ve seen bacon maple donuts, and salted caramel flavored products. We’ve also seen things like crème fraiche, which is the savory equivalent of sour cream. That is old school now. It’s ubiquitous to see savory sweet desserts.”
In its 2016 Food Trends report, a micro-trend identified by Datassential is “new savory,” which involves chefs taking traditionally sweet applications and turning them into savory-dominant concepts. The market research firm added that the trend is stretching dayparts as such traditional breakfast applications as yogurt and oatmeal are being served for lunch and dinner.
“Now we are going a step further and seeing savory desserts, but instead of salty and sweet we are seeing rounded savory flavors,” Ms. McClellan said. “You can see it with breakfast yogurt or oatmeal. Why can’t oatmeal become something savory or become the new risotto?”
One such company pushing the boundaries turning traditionally sweet oat-based breakfast items savory is Grainful, Ithaca, N.Y., which manufactures a line of Steel Cut meals in such flavors as pepper, porcini mushroom chicken, Tuscan bean and kale, vegetarian chili and cheddar broccoli.
Ms. McClellan said the blurring of dayparts has been ongoing.
“We are seeing people eating sandwiches for breakfast,” she said. “We are seeing the all day menu becoming more ubiquitous and giving people the option to eat the way they want.”
Ms. Williams pointed to consumer concern over the sugar content of products as one catalyst for the growing interest in savory flavors. In 2015, a micro-trend identified by the Sensient was “savory in motion.”
“We cited a couple of different reasons for it being on the rise,” she said. “Health is a big thing, and consumers are looking
at sugar content, whether it is in their alcohol, sports drinks or carbonated soft drinks. But aside from the health reasons, consumers are just exploring a more diverse flavor palate.
“We can see it in the rise of bitter flavors, sour flavors as well as canned, cured preserves, brines and some items with vinegar as well.”
Ms. McClellan said at a macro level, the trend toward savory is about “cravability,” the development of items that hit all five basic tastes in one bite — sour, salty, bitter, umami and sweet.
Ingredients that may be added to beverages to give it a savory bent include ginger and basil, Ms. Williams said.
“Ginger, with its inherent health benefits, is in a lot of ginger ales, but what we have seen are those that have a more authentic ginger flavor and are not syrupy sweet,” she said. “Basil has ended up mixed with strawberry in beverages. They tend to have more complexity and an inherently low sugar profile. When you are eating something with basil, you don’t expect it to have a candy level of sugar.”
Looking ahead, Ms. Williams sees several interesting products that mix sweet with savory, including a salted lemonade that has been marketed as a sports drink.
“Growing on that we see switchel, which is a niche, artisanal health drink,” she said.
Matcha is another possibility as well as tea.
“A couple of years ago several savory teas hit the market and featured flavors like broccoli and cilantro and tomato mint,” Ms. Williams said. “Some of them were very savory. I think tea is incredibly innovative and lends itself to different savory flavors.”