Walking the Sweet and Savory Line: Pushing the Boundaries of Flavor

Sweet and savory combinations have been around for a while and are extremely popular with consumers. This craving for unique flavor combinations has pushed food development in some very interesting directions.  From something as simple as salted caramel to other combinations that are downright wacky, consumers desire the contrast that sweet and salty or savory items bring.

So what happens when a food product you are so familiar with releases a new flavor and you are not sure how you feel? Does it confuse you or make you want to jump right in and try it? Does the flavor combination intrigue or repel you?

Lay’s Potato Chips has done this type of reimagining for the past several years with their ‘Do Us a Flavor’ promotion, where the grand prize flavor submission earns $1,000,000 or 1% of the earnings from the new flavor. This year’s contest focus was regional U.S. flavors.  This year’s flavor finalists include Biscuits and Gravy, West Coast Truffle Fries, New York Reuben and Greek Town Gyro.  If you want to learn more about how Frito Lay developed these ideas and the Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” contest, they will be a keynote speaker at the Research Chefs Association annual conference next March in Denver, CO.

Let’s look at some other concepts that are pushing these boundaries.

We all grew up with certain snacks or desserts that give us a comfortable nostalgic feeling when we revisit them. One of mine is crunchy Cheetos. It was the one mainstay snack in our house beyond any other. And of course it also conjures up images of fingers stained orange by the cheese powder.

In other countries, such as Japan, unique and often unheard of flavor combinations are much more common. Take the Banana Cheetos©, which debuted in Japan in response to the release of the new Minions movie. Such a familiar food, yet reimagined with banana powder, cinnamon and salt.

Then there is the Ramen Ice Cream from Nissin: it features soy ramen and curry ramen flavored ice cream, and it is topped with freeze dried shrimp, beef, egg, potatoes and chives.  Available at Yokohama Nissin Cup Noodles Museum, this is one dish I am not sure I would even want to try.

And then came the RamNut: a deep fried donut made from ramen that has been cooked in horchata then mixed with eggs and frozen until firm. From there it is shaped into donuts, deep fried and covered with sweet frostings and sprinkles. This is one in a continuing series of ramen mash-ups, which started with the Ramen Burger last year.

Not to be outdone, Dominque Ansel debuted Burrata ice cream at his new West Village shop. He touts it as an alternative to the sweeter vanilla ice cream we are used to eating. It is finished with balsamic caramel and a whole confited strawberry, and it has a markedly less sweet character than a typical ice cream.

A chocolatier is Minneapolis, B.T. McElrath, is buying quality local bread, toasting it, spreading it with butter, and then enrobing it in chocolate, for its own special take on the artisan toast trend. You’ve seen this trend most commonly as avocado smeared toast and other flavors with a $10.00 price tag.

And let’s not forget one of the most notable sweet savory trends to hit the Big Easy: savory king cakes. In flavors like muffuletta, boudin and crawfish, these savory flavors are taking NOLA by storm. Based on the traditionally sweet version of the cake, some of these newer flavors manage to walk the sweet and savory line rather beautifully.

From the above examples, it is clear to see just how important the sweet and savory combination is to menu innovation.


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