Finding comfort in fall flavors

August 30, 2018

Seasonal ingredients offer options for autumn desserts.

The Next Pumpkin Spice

There’s no denying that pumpkin has enjoyed a spectacular run as a featured fall flavor among beverage, snack and dessert items. But the ubiquitous autumn staple may have to begin sharing the spotlight with other ingredients that diners warm up to when the temperatures drop.

Culinary experts see maple, brown butter and cardamom among the flavors poised to gain ground in fall dessert recipes as consumers seek out foods that promise comforting culinary experiences.

“Many mainstream seasonal flavor trends tend to stick around for awhile,” says Amanda Topper, associate director of foodservice research at Mintel. “Diners still have an affinity for pumpkin during the fall season, but there is still room for additional flavor innovation.”

Consumers gravitate toward sweeter flavors such as caramel or maple in the fall and winter, and to certain fruits associated with the season, like apples and pears, she says.

Some experts expect pumpkin will continue to appear in dessert preparations, but will increasingly be partnered with other flavors such as ginger, citrus or cinnamon, or with one of the “sweet browns” — honey, brown sugar or maple.

“You’re starting to see those stand-by flavors such as pumpkin come through a little bit differently,” says Suzy Badaracco of consulting firm Culinary Tides. “Now they are partnering. They’re not the rock star.”

Following is a closer look at some of the fall flavors expected to contend for consumers’ favor this autumn season:

1. Maple remains a staple

Research firm, 1010data, predicts that maple is poised to take over as the new fall favorite, citing its increasing prevalence as an ingredient in food and beverage items.

Maple-flavored water, for example, is projected to triple its sales by 2020, according to research firm Zenith Global. In addition, the fall flavor will appear increasingly in doughnuts, seasonal specialty beverages and desserts.

United Airlines recently added a maple cookie to its rotation of breakfast snack items, citing the flavor's growing popularity, and noting that many observers have heralded it as “the next pumpkin spice.”

“We know that maple is an increasingly appealing flavor, and we are always looking for ways to capitalize on trends,” says Charlean Gmunder, vice president of catering operations at the Chicago-based airline.

Maple also is appearing in fine-dining restaurants from coast to coast:

  • • New York’s famed Oceana recently featured a maple ice cream sundae.
  • • Mission Inn in Riverside, Calif., showcased a Maple Pumpkin Bourbon Pecan Cheesecake, made with a chocolate, brown sugar and graham cracker crust, reduced whipped cream, maple syrup and pecans.

Liz Moskow, culinary director at research firm Sterling-Rice Group, says new characterizations of the various grades of maple syrup could augment its consumer appeal. Rather than assigning maple syrup with a grade of A, B or C, the industry is using more descriptive adjectives, such as “very dark and strong” on the menu.

“I think people will start to appreciate the subtle grades of maple syrup,” she says.

2. Brown butter gains favor

Another ingredient well-suited to fall dessert recipes is brown butter. It can impart a nutty flavor to both sweet and savory dishes, says Christine Couvelier, global culinary trendologist at research and consulting firm Culinary Concierge.

Acclaimed New York-based bakery Four & Twenty Blackbirds makes a Brown Butter Pumpkin Pie, which calls for the butter to be browned and blended with brown sugar to create a brown butterscotch that is incorporated into the pie filling.

In Baltimore, Charm City Cakes alternates layers of brown-butter buttercream with yellow cake to create its Beurre Noisette cakes.

Brown butter can also be used to add a unique fall flavor to a range of other baked dishes, from sugar cookies to blondies.

3. Cardamom adds subtle spice

Cinnamon and ginger are perennial seasonings for the fall and winter months, but cardamom, a relative of ginger which traces its origins to Southeast Asia, may be gaining traction alongside these popular fall flavors.

“I think people are starting to appreciate the subtlety of cardamom in the U.S.,” says Moskow, noting that the ingredient works well in cakes and cookies.

At Pondicheri, an Indian-inspired restaurant with one location each in Houston and New York, chef-owner Anita Jaisinghani prepares a chickpea fudge flavored with cardamom, glazed with ganache and topped with sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

Jaisinghani describes the dish as “pretty traditional, but we have created our own twist by adding chocolate.”

She also includes cardamom in her Gulab Jamun doughnuts, which contain mace and cinnamon, and are soaked in rose-cardamom syrup.

4. Wild card flavors in the mix

Moskow of Sterling-Rice Group suggests other potential fall dessert trends that have been gaining traction. Black onyx cocoa powder is being used to create black desserts suitable for autumn menus, for example, and chefs are also finding more creative uses of croissant dough and other laminated pastries, such as danishes.

“We could see that laminated dough as a base for innovation — maybe a croissant-waffle combination, or croissants filled with dates or figs,” she says.

Both Moskow and Couvelier of Culinary Trends mention mushroom powder as another flavor that is gaining acceptance and could find its way into beverages, snack foods and dessert options this fall.

“It matches perfectly with a fall or winter menu,” says Couvelier. “You could make a savory bread pudding or crème caramel that has a little mushroom powder in it. You wouldn’t want it to be overpowering because it would be more bitter than it would be pleasant. But it would be interesting.”

While it remains to be seen what seasonal ingredients, if any, will supplant the great pumpkin as the leader of the fall flavor pack, chefs can employ a plethora of other options to create flavorful dessert menu items which appeal to consumers’ cool-weather cravings.