food and beverages

Extreme Flavors Getting More Extreme


Like a sprig of Douglas fir in that martini? How about a sea buckthorn berry tart?

As a Wall Street Journal article declared last year, American cuisine is "adrenaline cuisine." Increasingly, that means getting sensory thrills through "extreme and edgy" tastes that push the limits of hot, sweet, salty, sour and bitter, confirms a new Center for Culinary Development (CCD) culinary trend report, published by Packaged Facts.

And yes, while you're not likely to be seeing them in your frozen entrée or dessert sections in the near future, the Douglas evergreen and sea buckthorn -- a "superfruit" berry native to Asia and Europe -- are the latest extreme flavors establishing a foothold in North American cuisine, according to CCD.

Adventurous chefs and mixologists have been using the aromatic Douglas in meat dishes, sauces, drinks and desserts for a few years, and home chefs are now picking it up at farmers' markets -- part of a trend termed "foraging" or "wildcrafting," reports CCD.



The bright orange, intensely tangy sea buckthorn, meanwhile (acai is so 2010), is already hot in Canada, as it's being cultivated in Quebec and Saskatchewan. In addition to being served as a dessert, chefs use it as a substitute for common citrus fruits in foods such as sorbet and curd.

Other extreme or edgy foods/tastes making their way through the five trend stages described by CCD (Douglas and sea buckthorn are at the earliest, or first stage):

  • Yuzu: an exotic Japanese citrus fruit with a simultaneously floral and tart flavor that's now being seen not only in fine dining restaurants but in specialty food markets, in products including soft drinks, sauces, condiments, savory snacks, confections and frozen desserts.
  • Bitter brews: Italian amari spirits are trendy as pre- and post-dinner drinks, cocktail bitters are big in retro drinks, and craft-brewed "hoppy" India Pale Ales are increasingly popular. (Example of the last: New Belgium's quickly growing Ranger IPA label.) Like yuzu, CCD puts bitter brews at the stage two trend level.
  • Tamarind: A key ingredient in Pad Thai, and now increasingly found in many specialty retail foods and pan-Asian and pan-Latin chain restaurants (putting it at stage 3).
  • Chocolate and chile: This hot-and-sweet combo sensation is well along the trend curve (stage four), and already appearing in recipes in popular women's magazines. That makes it ripe for inclusion in packaged baked goods, mainstream drink mixes and confections, and in-store bakery offerings, says CCD.
  • Wasabi: This hot, horseradish-like plant is already more or less mainstream (stage five). It's become a common ingredient in mashed potatoes, hummus, dressings and other dishes, and is also showing up in snacks and comfort foods, according to CCD.
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