Savoring spiced-up proteins
After all, it’s a known fact that trends start in foodservice, and with a few tweaks, modified offerings show up at the supermarket. This allows consumers to bring their restaurant experience into the home kitchen.
With center-of-plate proteins, herbs, savory seasonings and spices are a simple way to add the flavors of fine-dining with minimal effort, but at times, that effort might be too much for consumers … as they may fear adding too much, too little or not the right combination. This presents an opportunity for processors to add value at the point of packaging.
Trader Joe’s, Monrovia, Calif., one of my all-time favorite retailers, does an excellent job of providing varied cuts of uncooked meat and poultry packaged in marinades or rubbed with herbs and spices. Their sausage selection, too, is amazing, with an array of breakfast, chorizo, chicken and Italian encased links with varied heat levels and even particulates ranging from cheese and fruit pieces to surprising herbs and vegetables.
So here are five ways to spice up your product line. Each one presents an opportunity to create a signature flavor profile.
Americans continue their love affair with barbecue; however, barbecue has become one of the most ambiguous terms in the food industry. Pouring Open Pit onto ribs over the Smokey Joe no longer cuts it. The concept of barbecue has evolved into a family of flavors and today’s consumers want to explore barbecue variations from other cultures as a result of being introduced to these flavor profiles by foodservice operators. For example, Bahama Breeze brings a Caribbean/Latin flavor profile to its menu with West Indies Ribs, which features a glaze of sweet guava barbecue sauce. El Pollo Loco now offers Tangy BBQ Buffaloco Wings spiked with chipotles, habaneros and citrus juices. And, according to Chicago-based foodservice trend tracker Technomic Inc., Los Angeles food trucks such as Kogi Korean BBQ-to-Go have set off a craze for “Korean tacos” and other fusion fare, such as Marination Mobile’s Spicy Pork, a version of Korean bulgogi barbecue.
This brings us to the cuisine of Korea. “The Korean taco — an only-in-America synthesis of Korean-style fillings and a Mexican format — signals the rise of Korean barbecue and Korean food in general,” according to a report by Technomic. Two of the more popular Korean spices are red chili pepper and ginger spice, both of which come in convenient paste and powder forms for easy addition to rubs and marinades.
One of the trendiest Korean seasonings, also popular in many Asian meat dishes, is black garlic, which is made by fermenting whole bulbs of garlic at high temperature. This process produces black cloves that taste sweet and syrupy with hints of balsamic vinegar and tamarind. In fact, according to the “What’s Hot in 2011” report from the National Restaurant Association, Washington, D.C., 62% of the more than 1,500 professional chefs surveyed identified black garlic as a hot trend.
Half of the chefs surveyed also said Peruvian cuisine is the big thing these days. Unlike cuisines from most other Hispanic regions, Peruvian seasonings are a unique fusion of flavors from China, Italy, Japan and West Africa, all countries with a large representation in Peru due to an influx of immigrants during the past decade. These immigrants modified their traditional cuisine using items native to Peru and those that had been introduced by the Spanish during the colonial period. Peruvian seasonings typically include at least one of the many native varieties of chili peppers, in addition to cinnamon, parsley, mint and anise.
And finally there’s savory, a word with many meanings. Savory is often easiest to understand by what it is not, and savory foods are not “sweet.” To take it a step further, savory is best described as a flavor profile. It is not a basic taste, of which humans possess five: bitter, salty, sweet, sour and umami. However, many sensory experts agree that savory is mostly umami, a taste that has long been recognized throughout Asia but only in recent years has become accepted as a basic taste by the rest of the world.
Taking its name from the Japanese language, the umami taste comes from the amino acid glutamate and select ribonucleotides. All of these occur naturally in foods such as red meat, smoked and cured meats, fish, vegetables and aged cheeses. Umami is generally recognized as being the meaty or brown tastes that round out other flavors, flavors often described as savory.
Savory foods often contain herbs, vegetables and peppers. When some of these ingredients are cooked, their inherent reducing sugars and amino acids undergo chemical modification through the Maillard reaction, resulting in caramelized and sautéed notes. Vegetables such as asparagus, garlic, mushrooms, onion and tomato all contain large amounts of glutamic acid, which further contributes to that umami sensation.
Coming back to the term savory, in all fairness, the term savory has a more tangible meaning than being umami-like. In the culinary world, it is an aromatic herb from Southern Europe that is a cross between mint and thyme. Its name comes from the Latin word satureia (satyr’s herb), which refers to its reputation as an aphrodisiac. Fresh or dried savory is a popular flavoring for salads and grilled meat; dried savory is used to flavor soups, pâté and a number of main courses.
These uses for savory further justify its definition of being the opposite of dessert.
Seasoning suppliers make it easy for center-of-plate protein processors to spice up their offerings. I challenge you to offer consumers a product they can savor in the comforts of their own kitchen.