Profiting From Flavor
By Lisa White
Grilled and roasted notes offer bold and complex meat and protein flavors for sophisticated foodies and higher margins for processors and suppliers.
It is no wonder that grilling flavors for meats is continuing on a growth path. More than 60 percent of Americans fire up their grills year round, based on data from the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association
The same is true for roasted flavors, which continue to evolve and keep pace with increasingly discerning consumer palates.
“Everyone likes grilled and roasted products,” says Dwight Grenawalt, vice president and general manager of Summit Hill Flavors, a Middlesex, N.J.-based flavor and food ingredients company. “The popularity of these cooking processes continues to grow, as consumers seek more sophisticated and authentic flavors [for their grilled and roasted meat].”
Because actually grilling or roasting meat is not financially feasible due to production costs that trigger higher consumer prices, flavors are ideal as they simulate the taste produced from these cooking methods. Grenawalt says the key to creating authentic grilled and roasted flavors is focusing on roasted, charred and fatty-meat protein notes.
“Optimum application for whole muscle would be a surface application, such as a rub, as this would replicate original form, with roast or grill on the surface of the meat with less roast or grill on the interior,” says Susan Ismail, director, flavor applications for Hunt Valley, Md.-based McCormick & Co. “Processed meat or cuts can be marinated by injection or tumble. The high color of some roast or grill flavors will leave streaks in injected meat, giving a striated [groove or ridge marks] appearance.”
Grilled meats conjures backyard cookouts, while the slow-cooked savory taste of roasted meat is reminiscent of comfort foods .Reasons for the increasing demand of grilled and roasted flavors include the perception of “good-for-you” and the home-style, traditional, comfort foods, respectively, notes Melissa Ventura, corporate executive chef, Red Arrow Products Co. LLC, based in Manitowoc, Wis. “Preparing a food item by grilling is perceived as healthier than other cooking methods and adds a gourmet flavor appeal,” she says.
With consumers continuing to look for convenience in meal preparation, roast- and grill-type flavors allow product developers to deliver the taste that consumers are looking for without the time investment required with traditional food preparation. “In essence, what is delivered is an almost fool-proof center-of-the-plate item,” Ismail says.
In addition to conveniently prepared items, another overall trend in retail and foodservice is product up scaling. “Grilled and roasted flavors convey an upscale, gourmet perception for consumers. For instance, an ordinary pizza becomes a culinary masterpiece when topped with roasted chicken,” Ismail reports.
In addition, consumer tastes have become more upscale, with the advent of television cooking shows and celebrity chefs. “Every day, the consumer is exposed to more and more ethnic diversity with the growing popularity of the network media and celebrity chefs. Consumers are seeing new Brazilian Churrasco’s, Japanese Hibachi’s and numerous other new and interesting ways in which meat and poultry items are being grilled,” says Nick Pajor, corporate research chef at Red Arrow Products Co. “With this influx of new information, consumers want to bring the ideas home with them and experiment. They see their favorite chefs on TV demonstrating new techniques and flavor combinations. It is only second nature that these same consumers will start to look for new types of flavors on their store shelves and want to bring them home.”
Susan Parker, creative flavorist at Kraft Food Ingredients (KFI) in Memphis, Tenn., agrees that complex grilled and roasted flavors are driven by chefs looking for more culinary-inspired flavors. “Our product line grew out of roasted grilled flavors, which is the foundation of our offerings,” she says, adding that there is no limitation as to what types of meats use these products. “We used to see more use with poultry, but now we’re seeing more beef products using grilled and roasted flavors. The flavors of cooking are used in a wide variety of applications, from marinades to brines, dry rubs and seasonings.”
More than anything else, Grenawalt says, grilled and roasted trends are driven by flavors, in addition to products with healthy ingredients. “People can get more flavor out of a grilled chicken breast than a fried breast if it’s made properly,” he says. Summit Hill Flavors is focusing on its new line of organic flavors, made from organic certified materials. The line includes organic roasted beef, roasted chicken and grilled flavors. “The organic trend is picking up across the country. When consumers see that a flavor system is organic, it increases their comfort level.”
Spicy flavorings also continue to sell reports John Brewer, vice president of sales and marketing for Excalibur Seasoning in Pekin, Ill. His company introduced an oil-based marinade for steak in response to this trend. “Anything with chipolte peppers or garlic is popular, in addition to standards such as lemon garlic,” he says. “Sun-dried tomato flavors, such as sun-dried tomato basil marinade and sun-dried tomato basil and parmesan are up-and-coming, as well.”
Like Summit Hill Flavors, Excalibur Seasoning is responding to the increasing popularity of organic flavorings in the grilled and roasted segment. Last year, the company gained USDA certification to produce organic products. “We took our eight most popular rubs and converted them into an organic format, reworking the packaging, and the response has been tremendous,” Brewer says. “As far as growth, organic flavors are the biggest on our end and probably in the food industry as a whole.” He attributes this increase to the popularity of organic and natural meats. The Organic Monitor reports that this meat sector is the fastest growing in the North American organic food industry, with sales increasing by 51 percent in 2005.
KFI’s Parker says that, although today’s grilled and roasted flavor trends include profiles that are more complex than in the past, customers are asking for simpler and cleaner ingredients that forego allergens and partially hydrogenating oils. The company recently developed a line of wood-fired grill flavors using a process that delivers the flavor of wood-fire grilling without harsh smoke notes. “The latest addition is a pan dripping line for chicken, turkey, beef and pork. This is designed to impart the succulent, aromatic, flavorful taste left from the bottom of the pan after a piece of meat is cooked,” Parker says.
Mixing specialty wood-smoke flavors with grill flavors, such as apple-wood grilled or mesquite grilled, is a response to the growing popularity of the demand for unique and signature grilled flavors. “By incorporating a unique smoke-flavor profile with a traditional grill flavor, the processor is able to create a signature taste,” explains Ventura, who adds that trends also include focusing on the actual grilling method rather than a general grill flavor. “For example, grill flavors that provide the initial impact of a charcoal-grill taste or the slight hint of char associated with flame-broiling,” she concludes
On the retail side, Ventura predicts an increase in ready-to-eat grilled and roasted meats and poultry. “The ready-to-eat [category] is driven by the consumer’s need for convenience. This need is met by offering fully cooked birds or whole muscle [meats] for family dinners, or pre-sliced and salad-ready meats,” Ventura says. Along these lines, one of the major trends in grill flavors is distinguishing the type of grill being used and regionally targeting consumers. A poultry producer targeting the Hispanic market could use Red Arrow’s Grillin’ 2055 for a charcoal flavor because it is the style of grill used predominantly in that segment of the population, Ventura points out.
Concerning foodservice, Ventura says grill and roast flavors used not only on the protein itself, but also as ingredients added through glazes and marinades, such as wood-fired grilled tomatoes, grilled onions and oven-roasted garlic.
A growing number of consumers are exposed to a variety of authentic dishes in their travels. “The meat and poultry industries are responding by providing these flavors,” Ventura notes. Red Arrow provides the flavors. For example, a retail or foodservice product such as Vietnamese-style steak could be sold in strips, ready to be used in salads or soups and could have an ashy grill taste like that provided by Red Arrow’s Grill Scraping Flavor 1051, Ventura says.
“This ashy grill taste is common in Vietnam because the wood and charcoal used for grilling is not as refined as that used in the United States or Singapore,” she explains. “To make beef taste more authentic, this product would be used to provide the char note associated with the mixed woods used in Vietnam.” On the other hand, Ventura says a Singapore chicken satay would use a refined charcoal flavor, such as Red Arrow’s Grillin’ 2055 product, because of the evolution and seriousness placed on grilling and charcoal in Singapore.
Red Arrow’s Pajor says the flavor characteristics most frequently attributed to the grilling process are char, smoke, butane and meaty impressions. “Our Grillin’ Series line provides the additional flexibility of increasing or modifying these specific flavor notes to customize the flavor profile for our clients to address their particular needs, which may change depending on the protein, sauce, condiments, and bread or wrap considerations for their finished product,” he says.
A number of new technologies have been developed to help impart more authentic grilled and roasted flavors into meat. For example, a recent introduction includes the combination of SuspenTec equipment by Cozzini used in conjunction with Red Arrow’s Roastin’ home-style roast flavors or Grillin’ grill flavors. The SuspenTec process involves mixing a brine solution with meat trimmings and injecting the mix into whole-muscle products. This Roast Tec process provides textural impact to produce fork-tender red meat, pork and poultry products.
“The industry is heading toward grilled flavors manufactured directly from pork, poultry or beef products,” Grenawalt says. While typical grilled flavors are created from processed vegetable oils, there are products that use meat sources, combining meat flavored technology with the grilling process “We now have the capabilities to put grill flavors together with real meat products using a special process to duplicate the grilling flavor of meat. This duplicates the process of beef juices and fat materials being grilled or exposed to high temperatures” Grenawalt says. “We also can produce flavors that add the roasted notes of a true chicken breast, pork roast or turkey back into the muscle meat itself.” This is accomplished with a dry seasoning or a marinade injection.
Today’s technology also makes it possible to duplicate the flavor of meat cooking on metal. “If you take a grill flavor and put char flavor with it, you can get the full encompassing flavor of what you’re experiencing on the meat,” Grenawalt explains. “A grilled flavor can be injected in a chicken breast to give it an authentic grilled chicken flavor and you can add a char smoke flavor on the exterior that provides the culinary experience of meat protein grilled on metal.”
Brewer says one of the newer technologies has flavoring or marinade applied to a sticky, edible sheet, similar to fly paper. The sheet is wrapped around the meat and dissolves during the cooking process.
Flavoring manufacturers agree that an increasing number of meat companies seek clean labels for grilled and roasted flavors. This means flavorings containing minimal secondary ingredients and as many natural ingredients as possible.
“For example, many of our customers are asking for no partially hydrogenated oils [due to the increased focus on harmful trans fatty acids],” Parker says. “Also, allergens are being taken out of products. Simplified labels and natural, short ingredient declarations are preferred.”
Despite this growing need, Grenawalt says finding flavoring companies that offer clean labels can be a challenge. “Processors have to work to find them, but they’re out there,” he says.
Many predict the grilled and roasted flavor segment will continue enjoying strong growth in the years to come. “Consumers will demand more [from these products] due to flavor fatigue,” Grenawalt summarizes. “They want more flavorful meats that are home-cooked or chef-prepared, and the industry can’t offer that by just pumping meats with a water phosphate system.” NP
Lisa White is a freelance writer based in Chicago.