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Published December 12, 2010, 12:00 AM

Forecast predicts hot tastes for the New Year

This is not your mother’s spice cabinet. Today’s pantry is as likely to hold crushed chipotle peppers, roasted Saigon cinnamon and smoked paprika as it is to contain salt, vanilla and nutmeg.

This is not your mother’s spice cabinet.

Today’s pantry is as likely to hold crushed chipotle peppers, roasted Saigon cinnamon and smoked paprika as it is to contain salt, vanilla and nutmeg.

The American palate has grown much more global and adventurous. Some of that sophistication can be traced to the plethora of culinary information available online and the Food Network’s glamorization of kitchen culture.

But at least part of our evolving food awareness can be attributed to spice juggernaut McCormick & Co.

Every year, the seasoning company unveils its Flavor Forecast, a handful of taste pairings that it anticipates will be red-hot in the coming year. Hot fusions in 2011, for instance, will include mustard seed and vermouth, rice vinegar and pickling spice and goat milk and green peppercorns.

Since the company first started predicting flavors in 2000, it has foretold many important taste bud trends. Way back in 2003, McCormick’s experts predicted the popularity of the chipotle pepper, a once-obscure jalapeno that now flavors everything from potato chips to Applebee’s entrees. The report also envisaged smoked paprika, which has seen a 300 percent spike in grocery sales in the past three years. And its flavor combos have inspired new products, such as the Colonel’s Kentucky Grilled Chicken at KFC.

“It is highly anticipated every year,” says Laurie Harrsen, director of consumer communications for McCormick. “We start getting calls in the fall looking for the new report.”

The forecast not only serves as a bellwether for the industry but it’s also good business for McCormick. Months after its report is released, the company begins receiving orders for the latest spices and flavors. The company’s share price has more than doubled in the 10 years since its first forecast, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. “Since 2003, between 13 and 18 percent of nonretail sales have come from new products launched in the three preceding years,” the magazine reports.

More extreme flavors

At the center of the whole operation is seasoning soothsayer Kevan Vetter, McCormick’s executive chef. Vetter brainstorms with a team of the company’s sensory analysts, test kitchens, trend watchers, consumer research gurus, marketing experts and food technologists to determine what might be The Next Big Taste, Harrsen says.

They also consult with outside experts – popular food bloggers, international chefs, cookbook authors and mixologists – to determine how the newest flavors might be combined and used.

Which begs a chicken-or-egg question: Is McCormick telling us what to eat, or is McCormick simply listening to its consumers?

“I think the answer is both,” Harrsen says. “McCormick makes new flavors accessible for all to cook with anytime, anywhere. And Americans are enjoying flavor more than ever before. Consumers’ changing palate for bolder flavors continues to intensify. Bold has replaced bland.”

Indeed, Americans now keep an average of 40 spices, compared to less than 10 in the ’50s, according to McCormick data. It’s a huge shift for a country once known for macaroni and cheese and steak and mashed potatoes. A May article in the Wall Street Journal attributes our once-bland palate to the advent of processed food during World War II, which managed to drown out many regional cuisines.

Today, products such as Third-Degree Burn Doritos suggest we’re ready for a change. Even American snack foods are developed to contain “umami,” that savory, meaty, satisfying taste inherent in foods like mushrooms or blue cheese.

In the same article, the Wall Street Journal traces our more extreme tastes to the greater diversity of influences. “New flavors used to originate in fine dining kitchens and work their way down,” the Journal writes, “but now they come just as often from the Food Network or from ethnic or international sources.”

Asian culture – which has mastered the art of countering spicy with sweet – has been especially influential. That includes the meat-and-potatoes Midwest. Chef Sara Watson, who runs WF Maxwell’s in West Fargo and Mosaic Foods in Fargo with chef husband Eric, says Asian-fusion cuisine has been huge. “Even in Fargo, you see it a lot,” she says. “Five years ago, we didn’t.”

She credits the shift to the Internet, cooking networks and a growing global population that has brought ethnic markets and new foods to our region.

“We have access to any recipes online. Our world is becoming smaller. We’re exposed to more than what we learned from Mom,” Watson says. “It’s great for us, as chefs, to be able to cook something besides roast beef and mashed potatoes.”

What’s hot in 2011?

For that very reason, Watson thinks the McCormick Flavor Forecast is a good thing.

“These are pairings you wouldn’t normally see. It’s like something (gourmet retailer) Dean and DeLuca would do,” she says. “I like that it targets the average cook to be more adventurous. It’s really user-friendly.”

When analyzing flavor, Watson says it’s a matter of personal preference. On the other hand, “there are certain things that really do go well together. It balances every part of the palate.”

Drawing on those criteria, she believes most of the pairings in the 2011 forecast seem on target. In fact, she already uses many of these combinations in her own recipes, such as Ground-Nut Stew, which melds a peanut butter-thickened base with chicken, coconut milk and cilantro.

Here, in no particular order, are the suggested flavor mash-ups for 2011:

  • Fennel and peri-peri sauce: The cool, aromatic herb matches up with the fiery kick of peri-peri sauce, made from hot chilies. Peri-peri, sometimes called piri-piri, originated in South Africa but were imported to Portugal.
  • Hibiscus and ancho chili peppers: The lingering heat of this pepper contrasts with the tart, floral notes of hibiscus in this Latin-inspired fusion of flavors.
  • Popcorn and herbes de Provence: The spice mix, inspired by spices commonly used in southern France, is combined with popcorn for snacks, desserts and even entrees.
  • Cilantro and nut butters: This marriage forms a flavor combination that’s simultaneously sweet and savory, hearty and herbaceous.
  • Rice vinegar and pickling spice: This bright, Asian-inspired pairing combines layers of tang and spice.
  • Mustard seed and vermouth: These elegant, warm-tasting ingredients echo “old-school” French bistro chic.
  • Stone fruits and thyme: The herb’s minty flavor mixes well with the sweet and sour tastes of stone fruits.
  • Caramelized honey and adzuki red beans: Caramelized honey is heated and boiled until it starts to darken, which intensifies its rich, nutty, slightly sweet taste. It’s combined here with red beans for everything from soups to fancy-schmancy pork and beans.
  • Wild mushrooms and roasted curry powder: This union combines the umami-packed punch of mushrooms with the pungency of curry.
  • Goat milk and green peppercorns: The creamy richness of goat milk is an easy complement to the subtle bite of green peppercorns, which are softer and milder than black peppercorns and traditionally preserved in brine.

Eric Daeuber, a local foodie and freelance dining critic for The Forum, says he is already seeing different incarnations of some of these combinations on some Midwestern menus.

He recently dined at a Duluth restaurant where he ate salmon seasoned with nuts and cilantro. He sees goat milk, especially goat cheese, as a classic complement to caper-like peppercorns.

Daeuber also sees how many of the latest fusions lend themselves well to comfort foods, which are available in high-end versions at places like John Alexander’s in Moorhead.

And he agrees that Americans are becoming more adventurous diners – but only to a point.

“Our palates are getting more sophisticated,” he says, “but we still crave those bombastic foods that remind us of home.”

Spicy trends

Here are a few seasoning trends, courtesy of the trendwatchers at McCormick:

  • For the first time this year, the company introduced five holiday-themed pairings. Those include pumpkin pie spice and coconut, sage and citrus, almond and caramel, roasted cinnamon and bacon and bay leaf and pear.
  • It’s much more commonplace today for Americans to use spices in both sweet and savory dishes. For instance, cinnamon is used for Moroccan chicken or chickpea salad in addition to desserts.
  • Chile peppers represent our growing obsession with heat. These flavors have experienced huge growth, with 15 to 20 percent increases in the past five years.
  • In general, the spice category has outpaced most other flavor segments in the grocery industry over the past five years, experiencing 11 percent growth.
  • At the same time, these mainstream ingredient segments were down: ketchup, mustard, relish, salsa, salad dressings, mayonnaise, vinegar, bouillon, jams/jellies/preserves, and dried or condensed soups.
  • Not all of McCormick’s recommended pairings are successful. The company suggested chai spices in 2006, but that flavor hasn’t really succeeded outside of the beverage category. And annatto – a derivative of the achiote seed – has never really taken off in the United States.

For more information

Go to http://www.mccormick.com/, and click on “Flavor Forecast” heading at bottom of page.

Here’s an assortment of recipes that incorporate the taste combinations from McCormick’s 2011 and holiday flavor forecasts:

Pumpkin Spice and Coconut Puree

Serves 4

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger

2 red chilies, washed, deseeded and finely chopped

1 level teaspoon of ground coriander

1 level teaspoon of ground cumin

1/2 level teaspoon of ground cardamom

1/2 level teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1/2 level teaspoon of ground nutmeg

2 cans pumpkin puree

1/2 pint (150 ml) of thick coconut milk

1 1/2 pints (750 ml) vegetable stock

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Chopped fresh coriander to garnish (optional)

Over a low flame, heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan with a lid. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, chilies and spices. Cook until the onion is soft and the spices fragrant, about 10 minutes. Stir regularly so that the spices do not burn.

Add the pumpkin, coconut milk, vegetable stock and bring slowly to the boil. Put the lid on the saucepan and simmer until the pumpkin is soft, about 10 minutes. Stir every few minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

With a hand-held blender or in a food processor, blend the soup until thick and smooth.

Ground-Nut Stew with Cilantro

Serves 10

2 cups peanut butter

3 cups chicken broth

1 can coconut milk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cubed

1 onion, chopped

6 carrots, peeled & diced

1 stalk celery, diced

1 can black beans, rinsed

Cayenne pepper, to taste

Cilantro, chopped, for garnish

1 jalapeno pepper, minced, for garnish or to taste

Melt peanut butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in chicken broth & coconut milk. Cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Saute chicken and onions until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear. Add the carrots and celery.

Mix chicken mixture and black beans into the peanut butter mixture, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Season with cayenne pepper. Garnish with cilantro and peppers.

Serve with rice or cous cous.

Boursin Cheese-Bacon-Stuffed French Toast

1 pound applewood bacon, cooked until crisp

1 loaf cinnamon bread

1 package of Boursin Cheese (garlic & herb)

6 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

Pinch of pepper

6 tablespoons butter

Fresh maple syrup, warm

Spread a thin layer of Boursin cheese on the inside of one side of each slice of bread. Add four slices of the cooked bacon. Press together. In a large bowl add eggs, milk, cream, cinnamon, vanilla, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. Working in batches in a large skillet or on a griddle, melt the butter. Dip each stuffed bread into the egg mixture, being careful not to allow the bacon and bananas to fall out. Grill on each side until golden brown.

Pour warm maple syrup on a large plate and place one piece of stuffed bread on the syrup. Sprinkle fresh berries on top of the bread and dust the entire plate with powdered sugar if desired.

Previous three recipes courtesy of chef Sara Watson, Fargo.

Sugar-Rimmed Margarita Cookies

2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 tablespoon finely grated lime peel

1 teaspoon orange extract

1 teaspoon sage, rubbed

1/4 cup sanding sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Tequila Glaze (recipe follows)

1. Mix flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Beat butter and granulated sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg, lime peel, extract and sage; beat until well blended. Gradually beat in flour mixture until well mixed. Divide dough in half. Form each half into a log about one-and-a-half inches in diameter and 9 inches long. Wrap in wax paper.

2. Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm.

3. Preheat oven 350 degrees. Mix sanding sugar and kosher salt. Roll each cold dough log in mixture to coat evenly. Cut dough into quarter-inch thick slices. Place on ungreased baking sheets.

4. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned around edges. Cool on baking sheets 1 minute. Remove to wire racks; cool completely. Drizzle Glaze over cooled cookies. Let stand until glaze is set.

Tequila Glaze: 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, and 1 tablespoon EACH water and tequila in small bowl until smooth. (Or omit tequila and use 2 tablespoons water.)

Test Kitchen Tip: Sanding sugar, also know as decorator’s sugar, is a large crystal sugar that will not dissolve when baked. It can be found in the baking aisle of some groceries, housewares and craft stores, and online specialty stores.

Asian Refrigerator Pickles

1 seedless or English cucumber, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)

1 medium red bell pepper, cut into thin strips (2 cups)

1 cup thinly sliced radishes or daikon (Asian white radish)

1/2 cup julienne-cut carrots

2 tablespoons McCormick® Mixed Pickling Spice

2 cups sugar

2 cups rice vinegar

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1. Mix vegetables in large glass bowl. Set aside.

2. Place pickling spice in the center of piece of cheesecloth or coffee filter. Tie tightly with string. Place in medium saucepan with sugar, vinegar and salt. Bring to boil on medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Reduce heat to low; simmer 5 minutes. Pour hot liquid and pickling spice bundle over vegetables. Cover.

3. Refrigerate vegetables. Stir once a day for 1 to 2 days to blend flavors. Store in tightly covered container in refrigerator up to 2 months. Makes 5½ cups.

Marinated Shrimp with Mango & Radishes

1 cup julienned peeled mango (about 1 mango)

1/2 cup julienned poblano chiles

1/2 cup julienned radishes

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons McCormick Mixed Pickling Spice

1 cup rice vinegar

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup coconut rum

1 pound jumbo shrimp (16 to 20 count), peeled and deveined, leaving tails on

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1. Mix mango, poblano chiles, radishes and salt in shallow glass dish. Set aside.

2. Place pickling spice in the center of piece of cheesecloth or coffee filter. Tie tightly with string. Place in 3-quart saucepan with vinegar, water and coconut rum. Bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer 5 minutes. Carefully remove one-fourth cup of the pickling marinade. Pour over mango mixture. Toss to coat well. Cover. Refrigerate until ready to serve, stirring occasionally.

3. Return remaining pickling marinade in saucepan to simmer. Add shrimp; simmer 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover. Let stand 15 minutes to cool. Refrigerate at least 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

4. To serve, place mango mixture on serving platter. Drain shrimp. Arrange over mango mixture. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Applewood Bacon & Eggs Breakfast Flatbread Roasted Cinnamon Candied Bacon:

6 slices thick-cut applewood bacon

3 tablespoons honey

2 teaspoons McCormick® Gourmet Collection Roasted Saigon Cinnamon

1 package (8.8 ounces) naan (2 pieces)

1 package (6 ounces) baby spinach leaves

1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese, divided

6 eggs

1. For the Candied Bacon, arrange bacon slices in single layer on foil-lined 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Bake in preheated 400°F oven 15 minutes or until bacon edges begin to curl. Remove pan from oven. Carefully drain drippings into glass measuring cup. Set aside. Microwave honey and roasted cinnamon in small microwavable bowl on HIGH.

30 seconds, stirring after 15 seconds. Brush bacon with honey mixture. Bake 10 minutes longer or until bacon is browned and crisp. Carefully drain any additional drippings into measuring cup. Cool bacon on wire rack. Break into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

2. Cut out 3 holes from each naan using 2-inch cookie cutter. Place naan on baking sheet sprayed with no stick cooking spray. Set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon drippings in large skillet on medium heat. Add spinach; cook and stir 2 minutes or until wilted. Remove from heat. Add bacon and quarter-cup of the cheese; mix well. Place spinach mixture evenly around holes on naan. Sprinkle spinach with remaining one-fourth cup cheese. Place 1 egg in each hole, taking care not to break the yolk.

3. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven 10 minutes or until egg whites are almost set. Remove from oven. Let stand 2 minutes. Cut each naan into 3 pieces to serve. Season to taste with black peppercorns, if desired.

Previous recipes courtesy of McCormick.com

Photos provided by McCormick

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525