Flavor forecast: Unique pairings, prevalence of fresh ingredients touted as 2012’s hot trends in the culinary worldFashionistas live for New York Fashion Week. Techies breathlessly await the newest Apple release. And foodies anticipate McCormick’s latest Flavor Forecast.
Fashionistas live for New York Fashion Week. Techies breathlessly await the newest Apple release. And foodies anticipate McCormick’s latest Flavor Forecast.
That’s right. The company that once brought those humble, dried spices in red-and-white cans to our moms’ kitchens has become an expert at predicting international food trends. So much so that Forbes magazine has dubbed the spice company to be a “gustatory oracle.”
Since 2000, McCormick has introduced an annual flavor forecast – a handful of taste pairings that it believes will be habanero-hot in the next few years. Each forecast stems from a year of research, based on information gleaned from chefs, trend watchers, food editors, sensory scientists and food technologists.
In the process, the seasoning behemoth has foretold many taste-bud trends.
These days, chipotle pepper flavors everything from potato chips to Chili’s menu items. But back in 2003, when McCormick’s flavor forecasters first prophesied its popularity, few had heard of this smoky, sweet, almost chocolate-y pepper.
“Most people didn’t know how to pronounce it, let alone what it was,” recalls chef Mark Garcia, head of the McCormick Kitchens.
The forecast, which usually predicts what we’ll eat three to five years from now, can inspire everything from new products in grocery stores to fast food or fine-dining menus.
And it sometimes promotes fairly outrageous flavor mash-ups (wasabi-maple, anyone?). But McCormick’s experts insist the American palate is more than ready for adventurous dining.
“When we look at trends, we can’t just be coming up with the mainstream or things that are going to be easy,” Garcia says. “We have to think: Where is culture going? What’s going on in retail? What are the chefs doing?
“That’s the art and science between balancing the current with the new. We have to save the world from boring food, one meal at a time,” he adds.
Forecast goes global
Even so, the 2012 forecast may be its most ambitious to date. The seasoning soothsayers predict six large-scale trends in global flavor, but they also break down 12 bold flavor combinations to illustrate those six trends.
That meant pooling insights and expertise from McCormick’s regional locations, which span Asia, Australia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and North America.
“This was the first year of going global,” Garcia says. “McCormick has brands in 100 different countries, so we really tapped into it.”
Garcia says all involved initially worried that they’d never be able to agree on the same trends. After all, they were spread out all over the world and each represented completely different cultures and cuisines.
But he was pleasantly surprised. The flavor prophets seem to agree on similar trends – such as casting vegetables rather than meat as star player in a meal.
“When we brought all of us together, it was very interesting to note we have even more similarities than differences,” Garcia says.
Local chef loves combos
Locally, chef Sara Watson is excited about the flavors in the latest forecast.
Even as she read through them the first time, Watson says she was imagining the dishes she could make with them.
Watson – who runs Mosaic Catering and Events, Café Muse by Mosaic and Mezzaluna Special Events with her chef husband Eric – was especially intrigued by McCormick’s suggestion to use multiple types of lemon and citrus in a single dish.
“Maybe it creates different layers,” she says. “Meyer is sweeter than regular tart lemon and it’s fairly readily available now. It’s the gourmet lemon.”
Watson even agreed to create and test some recipes that fit McCormick’s flavor profiles.
She found the Dill and Mint Couscous, a recipe from Cooking Light magazine, to be “fantastic – light and healthy.”
She made it her own by adding toasted pine nuts for extra crunch.
She also created the Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup with Pancetta – and loved the results.
“It hits all parts of the palate,” she says.
The chef’s only advice: Be careful when adding the chiles or cooking with curry pastes, as food can go from zesty to five-alarm before you know it.
Dill and Mint Couscous
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 garlic cloves, minced
1 (10 ounce) boxes couscous (whole wheat or regular)
1 pint grape tomatoes or 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1½ cups diced English cucumbers (you can find these at local grocery stores; they’re usually individually wrapped in plastic)
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Toasted pine nuts, for garnish
Combine first 4 ingredients in medium saucepan; bring to a boil.
Gradually stir in couscous.
Remove from heat. Cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with fork; cool.
Combine couscous, tomatoes and next 5 ingredients (through dill) in a large bowl; toss well. Add cheese and pine nuts.
Source: Cooking Light magazine.
Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup with Pancetta
1 apple, peeled and chopped
2-3 cups of peeled, chopped butternut squash
2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon all spice or Chinese five spice (optional)
½ teaspoon minced garlic
¼ cup diced onion
2 green chiles minced (Serrano or Thai bird chile)*
1 teaspoon lime zest
Salt and pepper to taste
Granulated sugar to taste
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 cup crisp pancetta for garnish
Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil.
Add ½ teaspoon of minced garlic, sauté for half a minute. Add ¼ cup of chopped onion and minced chiles and sauté till onion is softened.
Add red curry paste and sauté for 2 minutes with sprinkle of water. Next add 1 teaspoon of curry powder and 1 teaspoon of all spice (optional). Add about 2-3 cups of chopped butternut squash and 1 small apple, peeled and chopped. Sauté for 4-5 minutes till spices coat the squash nicely.
Now add about 3 cups of warm water, 1 teaspoon of lime zest, salt to taste and sugar to taste; let the chopped, peeled butternut squash boil in it. When squash is soft, puree (in a blender or with a handheld immersible blender) and bring it back to boil again.
Season to taste with salt, pepper, sugar and a little lime juice.
Garnish with crisp pancetta and serve.
Source: Chef Sara Watson.
Meyer Lemon Crème Brûlée
2 Meyer lemons
3 cups heavy cream
About 10 tablespoons turbinado sugar such as Sugar in the Raw
6 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla
8 (4-ounces) flameproof ramekins; a small blowtorch
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Finely grate 2 tablespoons zest from lemons into cream in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan. Stir in 7 tablespoons turbinado sugar and a pinch of salt. Heat mixture over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until almost boiling, then remove from heat.
Lightly beat yolks in a bowl, then gradually whisk in hot cream. Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a quart-size glass measure and stir in vanilla and 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice. Divide among ramekins.
Arrange ramekins in a roasting pan and bake in a water bath until custards are just set around edge but centers wobble when pan is gently shaken, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool custards in water bath 20 minutes, then remove from pan and chill, uncovered, at least 4 hours. (Custards will set completely as they chill.) Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon turbinado sugar evenly over each custard, then move blowtorch flame evenly back and forth close to sugar until sugar is caramelized. Let stand until caramel is hardened, 3 to 5 minutes.
Source: April 2004 Gourmet magazine.