From comforting to escapism and healthy to indulgent, the pandemic continues to influence flavors

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/ Chris Ryan
Source: Getty/ Chris Ryan

Related tags Flavor

Fear and frustration related to the ongoing pandemic will continue to shape flavor preferences in 2022 with consumers gravitating to taste profiles that signal health benefits, hint at escape to far away lands, offer comfort or promise something new, according to industry stakeholders.

“The pandemic transformed the food industry and placed a renewed emphasis on holistic wellness that will shape the future of food and beverage trends,”​ flavor, fragrance and ingredient solution provider Flavorchem notes in its 2022 Flavor & Trend Forecast.

At the same time, consumers are caught between their need for comfort from tried-and-true flavors as they recover from the stress of the pandemic and their desire to break free from the monotony of quarantines and the same-old same-old, flavor company Novotaste says in its 2022 trends report.

As consumers feel more confident, they will seek flavors and dishes from around the globe that allow them to experience the world from the safety of their homes, both companies note.

But how do these intense emotions and needs translate to flavors and new products? Let’s break it down.

Health & Wellness

Consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated about the impact of diet and nutrition on their health and wellness, and as such are seeking out functional ingredients and flavors that signal wellness.

One of the most prominent flavors associated with immunity-boosting is citrus, which Flavorchem predicts will gain popularity in the coming year.

It explains that brands are using citrus flavors to cater to the 78% of US consumers who Datassentials Trendspotting data says are seeking out products with vitamin C, and the 40% who Mintel says plan to increase their consumption of functional foods.

But this doesn’t mean they are sticking to orange juice. Rather, more unique and exotic flavors are popping up increasingly, such as blood orange, calamansi lime, kumquat, key lime, tangerine and Yuzu, Flavorchem notes.

Novotaste adds that sweet citrus, berries and tropical fruits also convey a perception of health benefits that pair well in savory dishes as a counterbalance for added roundness.

Sharp, sour and vinegary flavors also will rise with their association to kombucha, kefir, kimchi and other foods well-known for supporting gut health, according to Flavorchem.

Pointing to data from Lumina Intelligence that suggest postbiotics are the fastest growing area related to gut health with a 1,300% increase in Google searches in the last two years, Flavorchem also called out as emerging sources of “biotics” sourdough, jackfruit, vitamin B12, tempeh, lotus root and manuka honey.

When it comes to supporting mental health, floral and botanical flavors convey a sense of revival, relaxation and rejuvenation, adds Novotaste.

Get me out of here

The early lockdowns of the pandemic may be over, but many people are still holding off on travel as COVID variants create a sense of uncertainty. For these consumers, exploring global flavors offer a safe way to “get away.”

As such, Flavorchem says consumers are embracing flavors and foods from Asia, Central America and the Middle East with sauces, seasonings, appetizers and beverages offering lower-stake formats for exploration. These flavors include dragonfruit, elote, gochujang, horchata, sriracha and wasabi.

KIND Snacks echoes this prediction, noting that Latin American flavor are going mainstream, including ingredients and spices such as casava, plantains, pimento seeds and aji peppers.

According to Novotaste, Asian flavors from Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand are leading the way in this trend and play well across categories. For example, orange blossom, lychee and cherry blossom play well in baked goods and cocktails.

Tapping into this trend, Torani declared “salted egg yolk” as its inaugural flavor of the year. Pulling on the sweet and salty notes that appear in Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisine, Torani is introducing a syrup with this flavor profile that it says is perfect for milk teas, espresso, cold brew and more.

Comforting and nostalgic flavors

Exhausted from navigating the pandemic, cooking at home more and adopting to a new way of living, many consumers continue to gravitate to what they know – including indulgent, nostalgic and comforting foods.

“A world that is perpetually going through changes makes us all lean on the past for comfort, and for most of us, childhood favorite foods and flavors trigger nostalgia. Biologically, our brain reacts to happy memories by firing neurons that create a flood of positive feelings through the release of feel-good chemicals that is akin to being rewarded,”​ Novotaste notes in its report.

Examples include carb-heavy foods like pizza, pasta, and fries, high-fat indulgences like melty cheese, and childhood go-tos like chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, it explains.

Building on this, Flavorchem says many consumers have leaned heavily on seasonal treats for comfort, which is driving demand for flavors like apple cranberry, cookie butter, maple brown sugar, organ creamsicle, raspberry lemonade, salted caramel apple and white chocolate peppermint.

Something new – from spicy to smoky

As a counterbalance to consumer desire for the tried-and-true, Novotaste predicts that consumers increasingly will want bold and unique flavors to keep life interesting.

In particular, it predicts spicy hot peppers that offer nuanced flavors or that pair well with sweet options will gain traction. It also suggests smoky flavors will begin to permeate different dishes, paving the way for more barbecue in the new year.

Sauces, condiments and dips are easy ways to deliver these flavors and empower consumers to personalize how much they want as they try and adjust to new experiences, it adds.

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