In 2010, natural flavors and colors will bring the exotic to everyday.

After a tough economic year in 2009, consumers are searching for ways to add small indulgences to their diets in the New Year. Many have resolved to cook in their own homes, rather than dining out, creating a demand for unique and exciting foods, flavors and ingredients that can be purchased at local natural products stores. As a result, visually stunning and luxuriously flavored foods are sure to make an appearance on store shelves in 2010.

Showing Our True Colors
Before we buy or taste food, we see it. Our instinct about whether a food is appetizing is largely based on its appearance, and color is a huge factor in what makes us salivate over or snub a particular product. A 2008 study highlights the importance of what researchers referred to as "sensory marketing," demonstrating the importance of color and flavor on consumers' acceptance of a product. According to the study, color intensity accounted for 43% and flavor for 32% of the consumers' overall liking, whereas labeling and package design were not deemed as crucial (1).

the sweet standardNatural food manufacturers face extra challenges when trying to create healthy and visually appealing products without the use of artificial food colorings. In addition, certain artificial colors and additives have been associated with behavioral problems in children, prompting researchers to delve deeper into the production of natural food colors and flavors.

For a long time, stable natural blue coloring has been sought after. Jessica Jones-Dille, senior manager of industry trends and market research for Wild Flavors, Inc., Erlanger, KY, says, "Natural blue coloring, especially for high-acid beverages and foods, has long been the ‘holy grail' of the color industry." Wild recently launched a naturally derived, acid-stable blue color. This color can be used at low pH levels and allows the company to execute natural green shades, new natural purple colors, and even a deep black color—all derived from fruit, says Jones-Dille.

Indeed, because of the tricky nature of natural blue food colorings, greens and purples have been somewhat of a challenge as well. Larry Wu, director of research and development for Blue Pacific Flavors, City of Industry, CA, says, "Green is another [color] besides blue that is difficult to achieve naturally and with good stability during storage. There has been decent progress made by a couple of companies in getting vibrant blues and greens in stable, water-soluble form." Blue Pacific has a complete range of innovative natural colors for a variety of food and beverage applications.

Natural food colors can be created from the following:

  • Turmeric can be used to create shades of yellow.
  • Tomato, red cabbage extract, beets and paprika can be used to create shades of red.
  • Gardenia is one method of creating natural blue and many companies have their own proprietary techniques as well.
  • Beta-carotene is often used to achieve orange hues.
  • Natural greens can be achieved through chlorella, algae, lime and mint.

Retail stores can provide literature about natural food colorings for consumers who want to create dishes from scratch or for those who are curious about what is contained in their favorite products.

Flavorful Feats
The world of food flavors is evolving as consumers are searching for foods that satisfy their desire to expand their palates, but still accommodate specific dietary needs.

Allergens. For many, choices in foods are limited because of allergies to certain foods, ingredients and even food flavorings. Jones-Dille notes that allergens in finished products often are able to bring a unique taste appeal to the product and offer a rounded flavor profile. Despite this, companies must work to create allergen-free food flavorings.

Top Flavor Predictions
Sensient Flavors, LLC recently announced its Top 10 Beverage Flavor Trend Profile Predictions. According to Kimberly Carson, director of beverage solutions for the Indianapolis, IN-based company, the list was developed using Sensient’s proprietary trend framework that filters trends from the broad, macro level down to the flavors themselves. The list encompasses flavors inspired from multiple macro trends including: health and wellness, sensorial experiences and personalization. The list includes:   
  •  Baobab: Native to Africa and high in antioxidants and Vitamin C, the baobab fruit offers a tart lemony profile.
  • Caja: Native to Brazil, the caja fruit offers a tropical citrus profile and has a high carotenoid content.
  • Cape Gooseberry: Native to South America, the cape gooseberry has a uniquely sweet and tangy taste.
  • Elderflower: Found throughout warmer parts of Europe and North America, elderflower offers a lightly sweet flavor.
  • Kumquat: Originating in China, kumquat offers a plethora of tastes from sweet to sour to salty.
  • Lulo: Native to South America, the lulo offers a distinctly different citrus taste.
  • Maqui: Found in South America, maqui is expected to be a next generation superfruit due its high antioxidant content.
  • Marula: Indigenous to Southern Africa, marula has a high level of vitamin C with a juicy and tart flavor.
  • Mora Berry: Found in Colombia, the mora berry offers a sweet and tart flavor similar to that of raspberry and blackberry.
  • Umbu: Native to Brazil, umbu offers a sweetly aromatic flavor.

“Beverage manufacturers are typically at the forefront of flavor innovation, and Sensient’s top 10 list reflects those flavors that consumers will be clamoring for in the next six to 18 months, ensuring that manufacturers stay ahead of the curve,” said Carson.

Chicago-based Mintel has also identified six key flavors for 2010:

  • Cardamom can be paired with chocolate and orange in many desserts.
  • Sweet potato is rich in dietary fiber, beta carotene and vitamins C and B6.
  • Hibiscus is becoming popular in teas and juices.
  • Cupuaçu is the “next big superfruit,” containing more than 10 vitamins and antioxidants, as well as essential fatty acids and amino acids.
  • Rose water has become more than just a fragrance, but is now being added to baked goods and beverages. 
  • Latin flavors are on the rise in the form of spices and ready-made food products.The market research firm also divulged two scent predictions for the coming year: simple and clean fragrances, and scents to influence mood.

Agneta Weisz, vice president of research and technology for Melville, NY-based Comax Flavors says, "Allergens are mostly an issue for natural nut flavors. It is very difficult to create a natural peanut flavor, for instance, without using a good unrefined oil as the background."

Rich Dandrea, senior flavorist for Virginia Dare, headquartered in Brooklyn, NY, agrees. "One has to create nature without the use of nature. A lot of raw materials are not there for creating a natural nut flavor so the tools are less abundant," he says.

In addition, a challenge in creating natural allergen-free flavors regards regulatory compliance. Deborah Kennison, vice president of innovation for the North American Flavor and Nutrition Division of Symrise, adds, "The challenge in ensuring allergen-free regulatory compliance is in an intense due diligence of incoming raw materials used in flavor and seasoning development." Sometimes, "hidden" allergens can be contained in natural raw materials or added during processing, which may be overlooked during sourcing. Symrise has an intensive regulatory questionnaire process, which can identify even trace allergens which may be additives, says Kennison. "The availability of allergen-free raw materials is becoming more robust enabling flavor companies to create high- quality, allergen-free products. Having comprehensive regulatory information within our raw material data collection enables ease of development for both flavors and seasonings," she says.

Wu agrees: "Allergen-free products require complete traceability from field to finished product for all ingredients, processes and processing plants. Certification along this process is extremely difficult."
Gluten can also be a problem for creating flavorings when sensitive diets are concerned. Jones-Dille says that Wild Flavors offers "a range of flavor enhancers and Resolver technology that is useful in the production of gluten-free bakery products to add back robust flavor and resolve some bitterness that can be associated with these products." Wild Flavors also is "able to offer a range of allergen-free nut flavors that can bring the desired flavor profile of the product, without containing allergens," she says.

Salt. Salt (sodium chloride) has been under heavy fire lately, with many Americans far exceeding their recommended daily amount of sodium. Because of the health risks associated with high-sodium intake, The Center for Science in the Public Interest has called for warning labels for high-sodium products and even sent the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a petition in 2005 to remove salt's GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status. Amidst this anti-sodium climate, companies are developing new sodium-reduced products, but not without concern about maintaining palatability for the consumer. In addition, salt has functional properties as a preservative and an inhibitor for leavening agents.

Increasing awareness of the link between a high-sodium diet and health problems has continued the trend toward reduced-sodium products. Emil Shemer, director of food solutions for Sensient Flavors LLC, based in Indianapolis, IN, says, "Understanding the challenge this presents to food manufacturers, Sensient's portfolio of natural flavor systems allow for a 25- to 35-percent reduction or more of sodium per serving, depending on the application." In addition, the company partners with its customers to develop reduced-salt products that mimic full-salt versions, as well as creating custom solutions that account for other taste changes that may occur in the final product due to the reduction in salt.

However, says Chris Long, general manager at Blue Pacific Flavors, "Many of the sodium replacers brought to market leave a bitter aftertaste on the tongue. We've developed an innovative blend of bitter-blocking and flavor-enhancing compounds in a flavor system that allows for sodium reduction that tastes good."

Cargill, Inc., headquartered in Minneapolis, MN, also recently launched a potassium chloride product to its line of salt reduction ingredients. According to the company, Premier potassium chloride can replace sodium chloride, but also acts functionally to put more potassium into foods, thus improving the sodium-potassium balance, a problem with which many Americans struggle.

Long adds, "Typically, natural food coloring and flavor products by themselves do not offer functional benefits. However, flavor systems can be created that have functional properties. For example, Blue Pacific Flavors has developed StabilEase, a flavor enhancer and modifier that actually adds non-flavor characterizing ‘creaminess' to dairy- or soymilk-based juice drinks by helping to minimize protein agglomeration with the addition of a low level of pectin in various acidified dairy and soy milk systems."

Flavor trends. Experts interviewed for this article agreed on several flavor trends they foresee for the coming year. Michael Natale, director of marketing for Bell Favors and Fragrances, Northbrook, IL, predicts that floral flavor profiles will increase even more into new product launches. Some of these flavors include lavender, rose hips, orange blossom and hibiscus.

Jones-Dille agrees: "We predict a continued interest in the addition of floral and herbal notes to fruit-based flavors to create signature profiles. Some examples of this would include lavender pear, tangelo thyme, blackberry iris, and vanilla peach tuberose—along with many others."

Also on the rise are flavors that convey a sense of luxury and the exotic. Weisz says, "I foresee flavors that convey high-end indulgence that one would see a celebrity chef create such as persimmon-cranberry sorbet or ice cream, or chocolate-ancho mousse for cappuccino or cookie, and flavors that are used to improve and/or mimic food that is perceived as healthy (açaí, Baobab, etc.)." Comax Flavors offers a full library of exotic and indulgent flavor profiles. In addition, the company has recently released a stevia-masking product and a sweetness enhancer that is ideal for customers seeking reduced levels of high-fructose corn syrup and sugar.

Consumers realize they have an opportunity to escape through the foods they choose, to make an experience out of flavors, and flavorists are responding. Wu says, "We are working with customers that have an increased desire for flavors with origin stories...Vanillas from different areas, cocoas and tropical fruits in particular. This trend of having an origin story will continue in 2010."

Paulette Kerner, director of marketing for Virginia Dare notes that Hispanic flavors are also on the rise, as well as the continued growth of superfruits. Virginia Dare manufactures natural, organic and fair trade flavors, vanilla extracts and masking flavors.

Natale foresees a growing demand for flavors offering sweet and spicy combinations, which he also sees within the Hispanic/Latin markets. Indeed, the past year saw the emergence of some very interesting flavor combinations such as chocolate, chili pepper and lime. Another example is Bell Flavors and Fragrances' new Peppadew, a South African pepper that contains a unique spicy and sweet flavor profile, which can be used effectively in savory and sweet applications.

Savory flavors are also expected to be popular. Jones-Dille adds, "We see a trend towards very robust, true-to-fruit flavors for beverage and confectionery applications as well as a similar trend toward ‘delicious' full-profile meat flavors for savory applications including soups, sauces and meat products." WF


  1. C. Raz, et al., "From Sensory Marketing to Sensory Design: How to Drive Formulation Using Consumers' Input?" Food Quality and Preference 19 (8), 719–726 (2008).

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, Jan. 2010