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It is too early to say whether this is just another passing fad but, whatever the case, when it comes to flavours, 2016 has already declared its winner, or rather, two winners. Sourness and bitterness are the two new flavours which, according to the experts, are rapidly catching on in foods and beverages, as well as conditioning the new culinary trends.
Sour flavours in a glass: the rise of Shrub
The trail-blazers in this respect are the pioneers of mixology, in which sour flavours mainly take the form of drinking vinegar: better known as “shrub”, from the Arabic “shurb” (beverage) and Hindi “sharbat” (an aromatic cordial made from fruit, herbs or flower extracts), which, in actual fact, is a product that was already widespread in XV century England and in colonial America, where vinegar was used to preserve fruit. Today’s shrub is a spin-off from the syrup obtained from these preserves.
According to a research carried out by in-sight.symrise, the growing popularity of shrub may be attributed to the soaring cost of Mexican limes (+ 500%). In other words, if the primary citrus fruit used in cocktails leaps from $20 to $100 a crate, the end price of a Mojito or a Moscow Mule, for example, will considerably increase.
To bypass this obstacle, bartenders have been looking around for valid alternatives: shrub, for instance, whose acidic notes recall the tangy taste typical of citrus fruits, has served the purpose marvellously; not only has it enabled us to rediscover a traditional thirst-quenching and aromatic beverage, but it also allows for some fascinating combinations.
New sour ideas, from Manhattan to the West Cost
In Manhattan, for example, a great deal of buzz has been caused by a shrub made from pomegranate juice, Cabernet vinegar and Sherry, along with another concoction of apple vinegar artfully mixed with dark rum, ginger, treacle and cider.
The West Coast has been quick to respond with its vinegar mixed with cider, bourbon and apricot; or vinegar plus gin, apple, blueberry, meringue and honey.
And what can we say about the innovative "Coffee Shrub Spritzer"? This unusual cocktail, which was launched at the end of a bartender competition and, in a very short time, became a must-try for all those who hang out in Portland (Oregon), combines balsamic vinegar with espresso coffee, agave and maple syrups.
Quick to catch on to the business potential of a fast-growing trend, many firms have made a foray into the production of drinking vinegars. Pok Pok Som, for instance, a quality Thai restaurant chain operating in Portland, Los Angeles and New York, has devised a line of ginger, pomegranate, pineapple and basil. So has another US company, Shrub&Co, which has taken up the challenge by accenting uncompromisingly organic products: fruit juice, brown sugar and vinegar are all strictly 100% organic.
The trend for sour flavours is not however limited to mixology. In fact, sour ales are becoming increasingly popular even though, in actual fact, they resemble beer in its original form (as the ancient Egyptians used to drink it for instance) and are appreciated for their unusual hints of leather, honey and red berry fruits. Notes that are not easy to appreciate if undiluted can, when used in cooking, turn out some amazing results. It is all thanks to the hops which, when aged for lengthy periods with “wild” bacteria, lose their embittering properties and become a useful ally for adding to pan-tossed foods and sauce reductions.
Another protagonist of the sour trend is Kombucha, a fermented tea with a pronounced acidic taste. This is no great novelty either, since this Asian speciality dates back to antiquity (as far as 2000 years ago), but today it is enjoying a new lease of life thanks to increasingly numerous health-conscious consumers and the bartenders who use it to give a touch of sourness to their cocktails. A trend that has also led to the opening of “Kombuch tea bars” at all latitudes and to the sale of kits for making this ancient fermented tea at home.
Not only sourness: the rising trend of bitter flavours
Along with sourness, bitter flavours are also becoming popular in snacks, as well as in drinks. Matcha tea is getting a lot of attention at the moment, as well as coffee that is roasted differently to enhance the bitter notes of the beans. Not forgetting the revival of certain "bitter" products of the past like Cynar, Campari or Angostura, which are of great interest to modern-day chefs seeking inspiration for new ideas.
Following the explosion of an authentic kale-mania, the trend for bitter flavours as an alternative to savoury ones has led snack producers to upgrade their offer in the form of “nibbles” based on dehydrated Brussels sprouts or broccoli. Even chocolate has followed suite in the form of a bitter version for connoisseurs (around 90%) combined with roasted cereals.