In a lively presentation at the NAFFS 100th Annual Convention, Chef Charles Hayes, vice president of R&D at JMH Premium International and Chef Erlich Chieca, director of culinary sales, Sadler’s Smokehouse revealed their insights on what’s driving the food industry today. “I never thought that my kids would be driving the food industry but it’s the Millennials!” said Hayes. “They like to share photos of their food; they like to prepare it the way they want it. They are into bold, new flavors, GMO-free, organic, etc. In my world we deal with this on a daily basis, so we’re seeing more bold flavors, regional dishes and fusion – with Asian and Hispanic fusion leading the way.”
Pointing to a chart from Data Essential which measures menu trends from QSR to fine dining, Hayes noted barbeque appears the most on American menus. And the trend for “smoky” flavors is trending upwards. In this interactive session, complete with tastings, the chefs demonstrated how smoke comes in many different flavors. “We’re seeing a huge variety of new and different ingredients. And this goes back to our suppliers – our industrial partners – when we are working on these types of things,” said Hayes.
Barbecue spans the globe, even though in the U.S. it’s predominately focused on regional styles, Hayes said. Barbecue sauces typically include vinegar or another acidic viscous component, some sugar and often some heat. Barbeque sauces in the U.S. are regional and can differ from city to city and state to state. For example, eastern North Carolina serves up a spicy sauce known as a vinegar mop over chopped spit roast hog. When consumed alone, it is very acidic and makes the mouth pucker. Western North Carolina uses what is called Carolina sweet, which is not sweet by most American standards. The Carolina sweet is a tomato and yellow-mustard-based sauce with a slight kick. In that part of the state, they shred their pork. If you move over to the deep south of Alabama, you’ll find a white sauce that’s gaining acceptance across the country as an alternative to traditional red barbecue sauce, especially on grilled chicken. It’s typically mayonnaise jazzed up with vinegar, horseradish and mustard. Hayes said it’s often mistakenly referred to as aioli.
Hayes said sambal and sriracha are making moves on menus, though he and Chieca things sriracha may have peaked or be close to peaking “The new sriracha is Gochujang,” Hayes said. “Korean fermented sauces are out there and gaining in popularity here. And it’s hot!”
Next, the chefs addressed what’s on their radar: Brazinha, Pinoy barbeque (a Philippino bbq sauce), Scorpion and Peruvian barbeque sauce. “Pinoy is kind of like your mom’s tomato sauce – everyone makes it a little different; there is no standard of identity,” said Hayes. “So as research chefs, we need to find those mothers, fathers and brothers who are out there making the product. We taste it, take them to focus groups and help to identify the flavors.” Brazinha, is made with three fruits – acai, passionfruit and guarana – and is indigenous to the Amazon rain forest of Brazil, he added.
Using unique ingredients provides a level of sophistication and premium consumer perception, the chefs explained. “This is clearly evident in the beverage industry today,” Chieca said. “Take a look at all the alternative flavors in craft brewing, mixers and distilling. Unique peppers (chilies, jalapeno), smoked paprika and woods are starting to trend in beer.” Again, they noted it is the Millennials driving it. Ingredients that add extra dimension in terms of boosting the umami taste are often the secret to a signature rub or sauce, they said
Next, Chieca referenced another Data Essential chart tracking trends from inception to ubiquity. When something reaches ubiquity, it’s penetrated 50 percent or more of the menus. Ex.: hickory, mustard, smoked, buffalo or blackened. “The biggest aha on this slide,” Hayes said, “is what’s in inception. This is what’s creeping onto menus. It includes Alabama mayo-based sauce, lemongrass, tandoor, soda-infused sauces, Korean, souvlaki and Santa Maria. Asian flavors, as well as Mediterranean flavors, are on the rise.”
The work of a research chef is split evenly between food science and culinary, Chieca said. “From a science perspective there are some things that are really important – for example, the rub. Sadler’s does a very simple rub. It may have garlic, salt, black pepper and sometimes a little paprika, cayenne or chili powder. It’s simple but the fun part is how proteins react or how carbohydrates react. The science behind the rub is there is an exchange. So when you put a topical application on the protein, perhaps some sugar and salt, it starts to draw moisture out. But as the moisture comes out, flavors get exchanged. The essential oils or whatever is in the rub goes back into your protein. They denature your protein and do a number of different things,” he said
Activated charcoal is finding its way into meat rubs, the chefs said. Activated charcoal is considered inert. It passes through the gastrointestinal system without being digested or entering the blood stream. Depending on the activated charcoal, it may or may not contribute charcoal grill taste. Its main purpose is to deliver a blackened color and a texture that’s slightly grainy, as if the meat was charred over an open pit. “This is something ingredients, such as coffee nibs and cocoa beans, may also provide,” Hayes said. Rosemary extract and dried vinegar, for example, are included to extend shelf life by slowing oxidation and microbial spoilage. “We use similar natural ingredients in our formulations,” Hayes said. “When it comes to flavors, anything that’s unconventional is conventional today.”
Sadler’s, Chieca said, is old-world in its process but new-world when it comes to food safety. “It’s marrying the two best sections of the business to ensure the product is safe but still maintains its flavor integrity.”
Hayes said his company is using activated charcoal in some of its rubs. When he first received a request for it, he wondered why. The customer, he said, was looking for a charred barbeque flavor. “They couldn’t get the Malliard reaction but they could get that charred off the grill flavor. So whether it’s coffee or activated charcoal, dried chilies, etc., there are lots of different variations going into barbeque flavors. The use of non-traditional ingredients, for example coffee, tea and cocoa, is gaining traction as formulators try to create a ‘wow’ factor which entices consumers to purchase the product. The key here is that the unconventional flavoring ingredient should not overwhelm the overall flavor profile.”
The chefs said flavorful rubs and sauces function as tools to differentiate in the retail channel, from heat-and-eat containers of pulled pork and meatballs to grill-ready chicken breasts and fajita beef strips to deli-sliced turkey breast and grab-and-go wings. Rubs add flavor to the meats being barbequed and sauced. Sous vide applications benefit greatly as well.
“When you think about it, there are very specific foods that are smoked in preparation for consumption,” Chieca said. “Meats like ribs, brisket and pork shoulder fall into this category. But it’s actually any meat that benefits from a low and slow, long-cooking treatment to get the best results. What these meats have in common is that they are full of connective tissue. This tissue is filled with collagen. And collagen, when cooked fast, contracts and gains the texture of a rubber band making your meat tough. But if you smoke or slow roast something, like a brisket, then the collagen breaks down and melts. While melting, water gets into this collagen, and creates gelatin, basically giving you meat jello, which makes your meal tender, juicy, and flavorful. Triglycerides, or meat fat, are saturated fatty acids found in meat which have high melting points. So when you are smoking meats at lower temperatures for longer periods, those fats melt. This process is called rendering and it is integral to making your meat juicy and flavorful. It is also needed to produce delicious gravies and sauces for other dishes.”