Product developers should explore more exotic flavors and not be afraid to try unexpected pairings, according to Bruce Murphy, vice-president of Mother Murphy's Laboratories, Greensboro, NC. Also, the right flavor choice can deliver healthy low-sodium products without compromising on taste.

Baking & Snack: What consumer trends favor the use of savory flavors in baked foods and snacks where they previously have not been applied? Where are trends or new concepts in savory flavors coming from?

Flavors are trending towards exotic and gourmet as people's palates become worldlier. People travel and watch cooking shows, so they are exposed to many different types of food and are willing to try new flavor combinations because it's different and adventurous. People are craving bigger, bolder and exotic flavors in their everyday food choices. Ethnic influence on American's cuisine is rising; Hispanic, Italian and Asian flavors are currently very popular.

People are turning to other cuisines' flavor profiles to make their food and cooking more exciting. Fusion flavors and sweet-and-savory combinations are becoming trendy as people move away from overly sweet baked goods and go toward more savory and uncommon flavor choices. Sweet baked goods are common, but the savory side changes the dynamic and adds an unexpected taste that consumers want. The trend toward exotic has product development exploring new flavor combinations they haven't tried before and incorporating more savory and ethnic flavors to help excite consumers' palates.

Salt reduction is also a huge consumer trend right now. Health-and-wellness is a major concern for consumers across the globe as more information becomes available daily of the risks of developing serious health issues like cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart disease due to poor eating habits. A big health concern topic is sodium. Studies find that most Americans consume more than double the recommended amount of sodium every day. 

Snack foods are usually processed and high in salt, and while most baked goods aren't huge natural contributors of sodium, certain salt-based seasonings and dairy additions like cheese in baked goods can contribute high levels of sodium. Food producers are looking for ways to deliver healthier products without compromising taste. R&D is responding to the concern over sodium through the use of salt extenders that provide consumers the same full salty taste in a reduced sodium product. The salt reduction trend favors the use of savory flavors because there are a number of bold low-sodium savory flavors like garlic and onion that can fill in the gaps when salt has been reduced and give consumers the full flavor they desire.

When consumers hear "reduced sodium," they hear "reduced flavor," so by enhancing other flavors in the product, producers can help boost the perceptions of saltiness while still reducing sodium levels. The savory flavor category adds distinctive flavor to baked goods and snacks without compromising taste. 

Comfort food is also a popular consumer trend. Nostalgic and retro flavors are in big time right now. Baking and snack foods have always provided nostalgic comfort to consumers. Due to the economy, people are eating out less but still want to spoil themselves and indulge at home. People have always turned to food for comfort, and classic flavors from childhood provide consumers with the avenue to indulge in a small reward to help them get through the day. People always want flavors they know they will enjoy.

When someone sees a flavor they know and love, it triggers a memory — an instant recognition — so they are more willing to purchase. Even though it seems to be in direct conflict with the trend for exotic flavors, the two trends actually at times work together because twists on classic foods and flavors are also becoming trendy. A twist on a classic satisfies the desire for new tastes but also has flavors people are familiar with. A common example is sweet-and-savory combinations that combine two very familiar flavors that have not previously be paired together.

Consumers are comfortable with the flavors they see but are excited to challenge their taste buds by trying them together in a new application. In the bakery category, product development has always had nostalgic sweet flavors available, but the addition of nostalgic savory, fusion and sweet-and-savory combination flavors has generated great deal of product development projects for flavor manufacturers.

What are the most significant savory flavors for the baking and snack categories?

Cheese is a popular savory flavor for baked goods and snacks. To satisfy consumers' desire for exotic, bakers can add gourmet cheese flavors from other cuisines, like gorgonzola or brie, to give baked goods and snacks an exotic and gourmet taste consumers desire. The use of these cheese flavors provides the authentic and exotic taste without having to use the actual cheese product, saving manufacturers money.

Savory dairy flavors, like cheese, blend well with bakery and snack items and can be great for flavor enhancement by providing a great cheese taste to a product but using little actual cheese to help reduce sodium and fat content making the snack or baked good more healthy. Cheese can be quite high in sodium, but using cheese flavoring can help the product be formulated to have lower sodium without losing its desired flavor impact. People have always loved the taste of cheese so traditional cheese favors also work well, like cheddar and bleu, satisfying the desire for comfort flavors. 

Spice blends from Asia, Mexico and Italy are finding their way into bakery and snack foods as they give food new exciting flavor profiles. Using ethic spices satisfies consumers' desire for exotic tastes. Herbs and spices are like salt in that they help highlight the other flavors in bread, doughs, bars, sweet goods and other baking and snack items. However, the use of herbs and spices is increasing whereas salt is reducing.

Unlike salt, herbs and spices provide flavor but are low in sodium. They fill the flavor void that reduced sodium leaves so the product still tastes great. Chilies and cayenne pepper are becoming popular in the savory side of bakery as they can add a subtle heat and smokiness to a product customers aren't used to. These spices give consumers the bigger bolder exotic flavors they crave. Pairing a less familiar spice with a common bakery flavor offers a subtle twist on a favorite, like chili and chocolate.

Garlic and onion are also popular savory flavors for baked goods as they are very versatile. Onion and garlic can be roasted, sautéed or fried. They add a dimension of spice and heat to food, but they are also flavor profiles that are familiar to most people. These flavors also have health benefits and are low in sodium, making them great flavor enhancers.

Meat flavors are common savory flavors and add a distinctive character to baked goods. The meat category is the most common for the savory category so there are many options that can be applied to bakery and snack foods. Popular choices include beef, pepperoni, ham and bacon. Meat flavors provide an authentic savory flavor that consumers know well but have not enjoyed yet in these product categories.

What about bacon? It's getting a lot of buzz in the consumer press.

Bacon and bacon flavor are emerging everywhere across the board in food products. The bacon trend shows no sign of stopping, and there are a number of reasons for its popularity. The most obvious is that it tastes great; just a small amount adds a lot of flavor by adding a nice fatty-salty-smoky taste that helps elevate the flavor of any application it is applied to. Another reason it is so popular is, it sells.

Bacon is a perfect example of the comfort food trend. It is a familiar taste that almost everyone has grown up enjoying. When people hear "bacon," there is an instant recognition of what bacon is and tastes like. People get a feeling of nostalgia when they think about bacon and especially when they eat it. Since everyone is comfortable with its flavor profile, when someone sees anything flavored with bacon, they know what to expect and feel comfortable purchasing it. The comfort food trend is responsible for the bacon craze.

However, bacon also plays into the exotic trend as it has crossed over from being purely a savory ingredient and is now being added to a number of sweet applications. For people who want the non-traditional taste, bacon and sweet flavors like chocolate and maple provide something new to shake up the taste buds. Consumers are comfortable with bacon, but since all enjoy it so much, they yearn to try it in new places. New flavor combinations make people feel more adventurous and exotic, so why not be adventurous with a flavor you know you love? Bacon more than any other typically savory food has bakers thinking savory shows a lot of promise for baked goods and snack foods.