by Charlotte Beal
October’s got me thinking about cinnamon-sugar and pumpkin bread. Flavors are not only seasonal, they often come in waves, as ethnic cuisines begin to gain mainstream appeal. Unless your great-grandmother was Mexican or Italian, she probably hadn’t heard of chipotle, mango or balsamic vinegar. Now those flavors are available at the fast food restaurant down the street.
Over the past 10 years, McCormick’s annual flavor forecast has morphed into predictions for hot new flavor pairings. This year’s special holiday edition listed bay leaf & pear and sage & citrus, among others. The self-serving (but buzz-building) campaign has but one little problem: It always seems somewhat random.
Predicting (or creating) the next hit flavors would mean big bucks for food and drink makers, grocery stores and restaurants, to be sure, and no one’s going to stop trying. But broader consumer and cultural shifts are what inform the year-to-year flavor ripples. To wit: Gen We is increasingly global in attitude; Food Network watchers are learning the fundamentals of how to build flavor; and sodium is the new villain. To Iconoculture’s way of thinking, those shifts add up to opportunities for hitting consumers right in the kisser.
My pick for the next massively craveable flavor? The Middle Eastern spice sumac, which tastes a bit like powdered lemons. Here’s why: It reaches across multiple countries, its punch of acid optimizes other flavors in a way that today’s consumers understand, and it reduces the need for salt. It could probably make the phone book taste stupendous.