Broadening Our Taste Buds, One Ingredient at a Time

5 Nov 2013

Our taste buds are programmed to favour and reject certain tastes almost instinctively. Sweet tastes are well-accepted, as traditionally they indicate a natural and safe source of energy – whereas bitter tastes tend to warn against toxic foods, and sour tastes can act as a warning for spoiled food. However, consumers’ palates are becoming more accepting […]

Broadening Our Taste Buds, One Ingredient at a Time

Our taste buds are programmed to favour and reject certain tastes almost instinctively. Sweet tastes are well-accepted, as traditionally they indicate a natural and safe source of energy – whereas bitter tastes tend to warn against toxic foods, and sour tastes can act as a warning for spoiled food. However, consumers’ palates are becoming more accepting of a range of flavours, including both bitter and sour tastes. One of the motivating factors bringing about this change can be put down to the dispersion of ethnic cuisine, with foods and flavours spreading across the globe. As a result, consumers have become more willing to experiment with new cuisines: over two-fifths of UK consumers look out for new and interesting ethnic foods when selecting ethnic products, while the bulk – 84% – of US consumers are open to trying new flavours when ordering at a restaurant. This has spurred the popularity of spicy and hot flavours and ingredients, with more consumers claiming to enjoy spicier and hotter flavours. In fact, over half of US consumers say that spicy food has more appeal now compared to when they were younger and a third of UK adults claim they are eating more spicy food now than they were a few years ago.

Sourness is the sensation evoked by acidic substances and is one of the strongest taste sensations, alongside bitterness, which is a strong, sharp, un-sweet taste found in substances having a basic pH. Straight off the back of hot and spicy flavours, tart or sour flavours and ingredients are progressively popping up as a flavour component or ingredient in food and drink products. A prime example of this is Greek yoghurt, a sour, tart tasting food which has risen sharply in popularity over the past few years. The growth of Greek yoghurt is evidenced by almost half of all new product launches over the past five years occurring in 2012. The sudden popularity of Greek yoghurt is primarily down to its taste, cited by almost three-fifths of US consumers as a driver for purchasing Greek yoghurt. People enjoy its tangy, sour taste, along with its creamy texture. The use of sour, tart fruits including lemons, pomegranates, cranberries, wolfberries, goji berries, and red dates is also becoming increasingly popular in food and drinks. This is partially due to their purported health benefits, but also their tartness adds a ‘punchy’ kick of flavour, creating appealing flavour combinations. The spread and influence of Eastern cuisine plays a large role in the increasing popularity of some key ‘tart’ ingredients, from exotic fruits to pickled vegetables and kombucha, a tart fermented tea.

The use of sour or tart ingredients across a range of products will also appeal to consumers concerned with their sugar intake. Almost a quarter of US consumers say they are using less sugar than they did a year ago, while a quarter of UK consumers find cereal bars, for example, too high in sugar. The healthier image of sour ingredients and flavours is partly linked to what they aren’t, and the fact they are the opposite of sweet. Bigger, bolder flavours will not only help satisfy consumers’ more adventurous tastes but will also help create more interesting savoury flavour combinations appealing to consumers trying to limit their sugar intake.

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