Firmenich tips fig as “flavor of the year” for 2018

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11 Dec 2017 --- Firmenich has named fig as “Flavor of the Year” for 2018 based on the growing appeal for this healthy and fruity flavor worldwide. “With its numerous health benefits and sweet and satisfying flavor profile, fig offers endless opportunities to inspire our customers and delight their consumers across a wide range of food categories,” says Chris Millington, President of Firmenich, Flavors.

Long touted for its culinary uses as well as its numerous health benefits – including its high fiber content and a variety of essential minerals such as magnesium, manganese, calcium and potassium – fig has surged in popularity in recent years. Firmenich’s trend insights show that fig resonates with consumers who perceive it to represent health and authenticity, and Firmenich believe these trends will continue into 2018. In addition, as consumers look to replace processed sugar with alternative sweeteners, fig has become a common go-to substitute.

Already used in jams and cereal, fig has increasingly been making its way into other categories including yogurt, tea, energy drinks, and even chewing gum. In savory dishes, fig provides a robust sweetness that pairs wonderfully with the salt-forward flavor of cured meats – and menu items such as bacon wrapped-figs, and prosciutto and fig pizza have become ubiquitous. Innova Market Insights has reported +16.5 percent CAGR for fig as an ingredient (2012-2016) and an even higher +18.6 percent CAGR for fig as a flavor over this period.

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Linda Lakind, Marketing Director, North America tells FoodingredientsFirst: “With the tremendous growth in all things water – note birch, maple and cactus water –  why not explore fig water to take this sweet treat to places no fig has been before. Or fight upcoming winter chill with fig tea infusion turning hot water into a purple colored, sweet non-caffeinated beverage. When February rolls in, think of fig as the next fruit of love, cut  open as petals of a flower with the reddish color interior and filled with sweet cream. We love the diversity of this gem.”

The fig is a study in contradictions. It is naturally sweet, yet extremely complex. It is meaty and gritty, but can also melt in your mouth. “Figs are lusciously sugary with a texture that combines the chewiness of their flesh, the smoothness of their skin, and the crunchiness of their seeds,” said Matthew Walter, Head of Culinary at Firmenich. “Raw figs are tart but make a tasty addition to spicy curries. One of my favorite dishes is anjeer murg (chicken and figs),” he added.

Figs are not fruit, but instead a kind of miracle of nature, a mass of inverted flowers and seeds that are pollinated by a tiny wasp that exists symbiotically with it. From a flavor-profile perspective, its versatility is what makes it so appealing, according to Anne-Claire Robineau, Flavorist at Firmenich. “A fig is consumed in different formats, so it provides room for creativity to reflect different facets in top notes: fruitiness of the ripe fruit, green leafy notes of the fresh fruit, indulgent and rich notes of the dried version,” she explains. “From a flavor point of view, it can be translated into fruity, jammy, floral, green, leafy, coumarinic, woody, winey, and sulfury dimensions.”

Firmenich became interested in fig during the Greek yogurt boom, which began in 2010. At the time, flavors connected to the beneficial properties of the Mediterranean Diet had started to grow in popularity. Fig stood out among them for its singular qualities. “Pomegranate, olive, dates, and fig were all on the rise and have continued to gain traction in recent years, but there is something about fig that we feel is special to this moment in time,” said Mikel Cirkus, Director of Strategic Foresight at Firmenich. “Often associated with the universality of true understanding and knowledge, there’s a mystical quality of the fig that people are responding to in a world full of uncertainty,” he continued. 

Fig is also often associated with the consumer trends of artisanal and craft because it is seen as an ancient ingredient linked to Old World uses. Archaeological evidence for the cultivation of figs goes back as far as 5,000 B.C.

Though not new, consumer passion for authentic and thoughtful products shows no signs of abating, especially as the world continues its march toward globalization. Flavors as timeless and elemental as fig will continue to satisfy this desire for something true and unique.

Firmenich sees no boundaries for where fig can go – with categories such as alcoholic drinks and protein ripe for fig-inspired product development. Both old and new; simple yet complex – the possibilities for fig are endless.

In terms of other new trends to watch out for in 2018 and beyond, Jennifer Luzes, Global Strategic Foresight Manager at Firmenich notes escapism, which provides a channel to those seeking comfort in times of uncertainty. “Escapism provides a way to explore for all, even those who only venture out virtually. Social media, film, fashion and, most of all, food and beverage are all key means of Escapism in endlessly creative ways. Nostalgia is a major component of this trend. Even if the consumer has never lived through the targeted time frame, they are transported to an era where there is no uncertainty, as all questions about the future have been answered. This trend manifests itself in food and beverage products, as seen in fantasy flavors, such as blue raspberry, exotic flavors, like jackfruit, and ‘throwback’ packaging across segments, all of which have become increasingly popular,” she says. 

For Luzes, as consumers begin to not only like, but also expect, creative and bold flavors across all segments, flavor trends for 2018 will not be wallflowers. “The trend in everything, everything bagel seasoning that is, has taken over. Long gone are the days of ordering one at your local bagel shop to get your fix. Everything is everywhere: crackers, donuts, yogurt, potato chips, pretzels, and hummus, to name a few. If everything is ‘too much,’ and you, like many consumers, are looking to return to your roots, ancient ingredients such as figs, beets and turmeric are exactly the trends you need. The health benefits of these superfoods paired with their tasty flavor profiles is a winning combination that delights consumers,” she says.

She also agrees on the prevalence of the trend towards thoughtful eating, whereby responsible food choices take health, sustainability and ethical considerations into account, calling it “Eating wide awake.” “Consumers have become more aware of the food they consume and how it is produced. Within this awakening, there is certainly more attention being paid to the health benefits of each item consumed as well as the sustainability and ethics of each product. As more consumers begin eating consciously, it is no longer enough for a brand to create delicious and nutritious food and beverages. Each brand must stand for something to retain its fans, especially among younger generations. ‘Eating wide awake’ is a movement that is only gaining more momentum, notably through social media. Expect to see a rise in hyper-personalized nutrition and diet plans, as well as more doctors prescribing food as medicine,” she concludes.

By Robin Wyers

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