It’s not enough to just offer teriyaki marinades today. They must be Mediterranean, mesquite or even gluten-free. Today’s flavors are exotic, yet practical, and are driving the industry to new cuisines.

According to Sara Danforth, new product development manager for St. Cloud, Minn.-based GNP Co., her company’s consumer research from late 2012 and early 2013 bears this out: Consumers continue to look for convenience at home, which pre-marinated proteins offer.

“Pre-marinated and seasoned chicken is a great way to make it easier or faster for them to put a meal on the table,” she says. “Along with that, they are asking for recognizable ingredients on the package [i.e., simple ingredients they are familiar with]. Gluten-free seasonings are also something we continue to hear about.”

GNP’s Gold’n Plump brand is launching two new seasoned whole chicken products for retail this fall, which will come in mesquite and pesto.

“The mesquite is a smoky BBQ-like flavor and the pesto is a blend of garlic, basil and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese flavors,” she says. “We found pesto to be very on trend, as Technomic Menu Monitor rated it a top flavor profile.”

Seasonings that work well on pork also take well to chicken.

“Poultry tends to be a great base for flavors,” says Danforth. “Last year we launched a line of chicken brat and Italian sausages.  We find the chicken to take on those seasonings very well.”  

Pork and poultry work especially well with marinades because they are mild flavored and pick up marinade flavors very well. 

“These meats are also often somewhat dry alone and marinades can achieve a great deal of improvement,” notes Joseph G. Sebranek, Ph.D., distinguished professor of Animal Science, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. 

Authenticity plus mass-market appeal

“Flavor trends for marinades are similar to rubs in the sense that the consumer expectation is higher now, and therefore flavors are becoming bolder, incorporating different acids, herbs, spices, juices, etc. to create unique and complex flavors throughout the meat while simultaneously creating a more moist, juicy cut,” says Amanda Zimlich, director of culinary and R&D for Hillshire Brands Co., based in Chicago.

Mediterranean flavors continue to be on trend in cures, rubs and marinades for meat and poultry. 

Broadly speaking, authentic Mediterranean marinades and seasoning blends stemming from this expansive area on the map utilize acids, alliaceous flavors, herbs and spices in a balanced, natural way that let the inherent flavors of the meat itself shine through, says Zimlich. Where the evolution lies is in the “mashing up” of authenticity with other flavors.

 “Mediterranean seasonings for meat were once simply garlic, onion, basil and oregano — think generic Italian seasoning for rub or vinaigrette as a marinade,” says Zimlich. “Today’s consumers are increasingly becoming more adventurous, more culinary and are expecting flavors that truly highlight and accent the meat and poultry they are applied to, while simultaneously elevating the eating experience by creating a sense of place.”    

In addition to Mediterranean, American regional cuisines certainly have their influence on brines, cures, rubs and marinades, as well.  Regional BBQ flavor profiles continue to hold mass appeal, and are growing in complexity, she says. 

“Applying alcohols like bourbon and beer to the acidic or savory combination sauces add flavor depth and also a layer of sweetness and sophistication that take the meats they are applied to, to the next level,” says Zimlich.

Flavors of the Southwest like chipotle continue to be a consumer favorite. According to Zimlich, chipotle is fantastic for meat and poultry because it is multi-dimensional.

“There is a smoky element indicative to smoked jalapeño and chipotle en adobo that works beautifully with meat,” she says. “To build on those smoked jalapeño notes, cumin is a very robust and nutty, meaty spice and pairs beautifully with it. “   

Another American regional flavor seasoning blend that continues to build steam in meats and poultry is the vast array of Cajun spice blends. 

“Bold, spicy and alliaceous flavors delivered through Cajun spice blends are a natural fit in multiple meat flavoring applications — think about the scratch cooking experience, using ‘blackened’ seasoning,” she says. “Paprika, cumin, pepper and other spices are pressed liberally onto a piece of chicken or fish before searing on a screeching hot pan to create an even darker maillard browning reaction and deep, rich, nutty flavor profile.”

Hillshire Farms is experimenting with these bolder flavor profiles with its Black Pepper Turkey Breast, Chipotle Chicken Breast, Tuscan Style Herb Turkey Breast and Smokey Bourbon Ham.

“Marinades not only flavor meat and poultry on the surface, they are also intended to tenderize the muscle and in doing so enhance the eating experience, creating a product that is more moist and flavorful throughout,” says Zimlich.

Carrying strong flavors

Teriyaki has been a long time favorite for beef marinades, and is still popular, notes Steve Wald, executive director of innovation and culinary, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, based in Denver.

“We’re also seeing more burgundy, wine, cracked peppercorn, garlic and Cajun flavors,” he says. “Dry rubs for overall seasoning flavor give nice background notes for oven roasts, for example.”

Because beef has a distinctive flavor profile, it doesn’t have as many marinated offerings as pork and poultry products today, but its solid background is ideal for carrying strong flavors like burgundy and garlic that can overpower proteins with less flavor.

Although there may not be any recent technologies for how flavor is delivered or manufactured, he says, there have been changes in how the products are packaged.

“Pot roasts that can be thrown in the oven in their packaging have been around awhile, but they are gaining traction due to higher consumer acceptance,” he says.

Wald expects to see more marinated beef products in the next six months to a year and a half, because there are several opportunities available to marinate lesser value cuts and add taste and convenience.

Returning to natural

Going forward, consumers are expressing more interest in natural ingredients and flavor that has been added by “natural” means, says Iowa State’s Sebranek.

And there is still room for the old favorites on the shelf.

“It seems like a lot of variety is important to consumers, so I think most of the more ‘traditional’ flavors such as honey, pepper, etc. are still good fallbacks for consumers after they have tried some of the new variations,” he says.

The muscle foods always work well with marinades because the marinades can improve juiciness, tenderness, flavor stability and appearance in addition to imparting unique flavors. 

“Those are fundamental quality characteristics that are very important to consumers and must be provided before any unique flavors will have an impact on overall consumer satisfaction,” says Sebranek.