Smoke flavors are increasing in popularity, appearing in a range of new and unusual applications, and could help to differentiate new products, according to smoke flavor specialists speaking at the recent Research Chefs Association conference in Texas.
Robert Johnson, manager of value optimization at smoke flavor firm Red Arrow International, told delegates that smoke flavors have changed markedly in recent years. Fifteen or twenty years ago, liquid smokes were often perceived to be bitter or acrid, he said, but the process has been refined, and different wood species are being used to produce different flavor profiles. As a result, smoke flavors are emerging as a top flavor trend.
“There are more and more unusual applications using smoke,” Johnson said, listing cheeses, breads, and drinks such as smoked beer, cocktails, and even ice cubes, as emerging applications for smoke flavors, taking smoke far beyond the traditional smoked meats.
In addition, the company has started seeing increased demand for smoked ingredients, including spices, sugar, garlic, salt and maltodextrin.
Specific wood smokes are also becoming more popular, Johnson said.
“Applewood is the top named species right now but cherrywood is coming up…Applewood has just gone northward in terms of sales in the past few years. You add applewood and you can charge a 40% premium, but it literally doesn’t cost any more to produce.”
For food manufacturers considering adding smoke flavors to their products, Johnson and his colleague Mike Hudak, Red Arrow’s food service sales manager, highlighted its antimicrobial and antioxidant qualities (for improved shelf life) and ability to add consistent flavor without adding salt or fat.
“Another important application is meat analogs,” Hudak said. “Why not add smoke to give that perception of smoked meat?”
Johnson added: “Smoke tends to align itself with sodium so it brings up the salt.”
But as smoke flavors increase in popularity, Johnson underlined that one of their greatest benefits for food manufacturers is the potential return on investment.
“It pays to use smoke,” he said.
According to the company’s research using Mintel’s Menu Insights database, products that mention smoke are priced on average $0.67 higher than the same menu items that do not mention smoke. And the cost of using condensed natural smoke costs a tenth of a cent to half a cent per pound for large orders, according to Johnson.
“We are not talking pennies here; we are talking fractions of a penny,” he said.