The Flavors of Far, Far Away

Shrek’s bride comes from Far, Far Away, where America’s favorite ogre cannot find the food he likes best: grub. Her family prefers a feast of turkey and lobster, with the traditional sides. To Shrek, flavors from Far, Far Away are unfamiliar, which is often the same for Americans who travel abroad and sample the local fare.

According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, America shares some of the same flavor trends with Europe in the cheese category . . . but definitely not all. The three flavors that stand out as being “European” include ham, paprika and smoke. These can be found in all types of cheeses, mostly soft forms intended for spreading on crackers, breads and sandwiches. Or maybe . . . grub?

Americans still need to learn about fromage frais, a fresh cheese made with starter culture and rennet, but never allowed to solidify. When stirred, it more closely resembles the texture of yogurt or sour cream. It is often used as a cooking cream or mixed with fruit or savory seasonings.

It Italy, green olives are often added to soft and hard cheeses, whereas in Germany, tomato pieces are common. The French experiment with a variety of herbs and spices, including basil, cumin and garlic.

In Singapore, Fonterra Brands now offers Halal-certified Chesdale Hi Calcium Cheese with Smoked Flavor. While in Hungary, Foodexpert Plus markets Ermitage Tome du Lomont Hard Cheese flavored with White Wine and Spices.

Indeed, in cheese, savory rather than sweet is still the trend around the world. However, sweet remains the predominant choice of flavors in yogurt, but this is changing.

Several sweet flavors are gaining momentum in European soft cheeses. These include apple, banana, lemon, honey and strawberry. For example, in Hungary, Friesland Foods has Milli Banana Flavored Cream Cheese. Some of the more interesting new cheese flavors to debut in European countries include bilberry, curry, dulce de leche, guava and mandarin.

When it comes to flavor innovation in the United States, the most opportunity exists with yogurt, where savory seasonings tranform yogurt into an ingredient for the home and in the restaurant. 

“With health and wellness getting a lion share of the attention in today’s restaurants and grocery stores, we have seen a rather large up tick in the use of yogurts and yogurts with live cultures in products where previously there was little or no dairy presence,” says Adam Schreier, corporate chef, Mastertaste, Teterboro, N.J. “This trend is helping food processors answer the public’s demand for healthier offerings.”

For example, Middle Eastern foods have always incorporated yogurt and cream sauces into their recipes. “Now we’re seeing even more innovation, like a mint yogurt sauce that could be used on a lamb burger or in chicken gyros. Others are experimenting with spicy curry cumin yogurt sauce, which pairs well with a rack of lamb or on a whole grilled red snapper,” says Schreier.

Some of those far-away flavors

Here are some flavors that other countries use in an array of dairy foods, and are likely the most suited for American palates.

  • Aloe vera: Scientific investigations on aloe vera have gained more attention over the past decade due to this plant’s reputable medicinal properties. Aloe vera gels, juices and powders are available as food ingredients and are often used in milk and yogurt products in Asia and various Hispanic countries.     In the United States, edible aloe has been limited to fresh aloe leaves and prepared gels and juices. However, it is an approved food additive for use as a flavoring agent, so there is a lot of opportunity in the formulation of functional foods and beverages (21CFR172.510). Ironically, aloe vera is described as relatively flavorless, with, at most, a slight bitter aftertaste. So, technically, it’s not much of a flavor. Consumer perception is that it falls somewhere in the citrus-menthol sensory range, and food formulators tend to include these flavors in finished products in order to appeal to consumers.     Researchers continue to investigate the purported biological activities and functional properties of aloe vera. It is most recognized for enhancing skin health when applied topically as well as when consumed straight or via a vehicle such as dairy. Marketers suggest that consuming more aloe helps make the skin glow. It also assists in defying the aging process. Thus, aloe presents tremendous opportunity with formulating dairy foods for aging baby boomers.

  • Green tea: Produced from leaves from the tea plant Camellia sinesis, the primary difference from the more common black tea leaves is that green tea leaves are not fermented. Its flavor is slightly bitter and closer to the taste of a fresh leaf. It complements various dairy foods including ice cream, milk and yogurt. Like all tea leaves from C. sinesis, green tea is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) in all food applications.

  • Lemon grass: Considered an herb, lemon grass has long, thin leaves and a scallion-like base. As its name implies, it possesses a distinct lemony flavor and fragrance. When it comes to dairy, the powdered form of lemon grass works real well with creams and sauces, especially those based on fromage frais and yogurt. It, too, is GRAS for all applications.

  • Passionfruit: There are purple and yellow passionfruits, and both yield delicious juice that can be used in many dairy foods including milk, ice cream and yogurt. The yellow fruit is generally larger than the purple, with the pulp of the purple being less acidic, richer in aroma and flavor, and having a higher proportion of juice as compared to the yellow. In general, the flavor for both colors of fruit can be described as musky, acidic and guava-like.    In South Africa, passionfruit juice is often blended with milk and a thickening agent to produce a shake-like beverage. In Australia the pulp is added to yogurt. The juice works best in ice cream and sherbet.

    Far, Far Away is only as far as you want it to be.

    New UHT Milk with Real Fruit Particulates

    Mongolia’s Mengniu Dairy Industry, one of China’s leading dairy manufacturers, offers the dairy industry a global first in product innovation. Together with Gemany’s SIG Combibloc, a system supplier of carton packaging and filling machines for beverages and food, Mengniu introduced UHT milk containing pieces of real fruit. The products, in Strawberry, Peach, Coconut and Aloe Vera varieties, are offered in 250ml drink boxes with drinking straw.

    With this unique new product, Mengniu is pursuing a strategy of invigorating the Chinese market with new dairy products, while at the same time boosting the company’s product portfolio. Bai Ying, general manager of the liquid dairy products division and vice president of the Mengniu Group, says, “[This] unique, flexible filling technology means we can put even chunky products in the aseptic carton packs . . .  We’ve developed a product concept that is unique in China and on the international dairy market, and which offers a real added value.”

    Each package sleeve is individually shaped, sterilized and filled on the filling machines at the customer’s premises. The top of each carton pack is ultrasonically sealed above the filling level, only after the product has been filled.

    The main requirement for survival in the hotly contested Chinese dairy market is the ability to bring high-value products onto the market, using efficient methods of production. According to the experts at Mengniu, product differentiation and the creation of added value play a key role in escaping pricing pressure and ensuring long-term market success. This is precisely where the new product concept fits in. Putting pieces of real fruit in UHT milk is a one-of-a-kind idea. It offers consumers a new taste experience and the knowledge that, with the combination of the nutrients from milk and the goodness of fruit, they are giving themselves an extra portion of health.

    The new UHT milk products are positioned as premium products and are targeted primarily at young, modern women who want to combine natural flavor with a modern lifestyle and good health. “The 250ml portion sizes in combiblocMini have been well-received. They are presented as a convenient, user-friendly packaging solution that is eye-catching and expands Mengniu’s product portfolio to optimal effect. The flexible filling machine system makes it possible to fill volumes from 125 to 250ml on one and the same machine, ” says Bai Ying.

    Established in 1999, Inner Mongolia Mengniu Dairy Industry (Group) Co., Ltd has grown in seven years from a small regional provider in Inner Mongolia into one of China’s biggest dairy manufacturers. In 2005, Mengniu achieved total sales of 10.8 billion RMB (US$1.36 billion), and with a market share of 30%, it is China’s number-one in the liquid UHT milk products segment. Today, Mengniu owns more than 20 production facilities in 15 provinces all over China, and has a portfolio of more than 100 different products. According to market analyses, Mengniu has the potential, within the next three to five years, to develop into one of the 20 most successful dairy manufacturers in the world.