Up Front

Five Faves: Flavor picks for 2019

Flavor guru picks her top tastes for 2019
Flavors and memories go together, such as this mango cocktail from a tropical vacation.

Every year my company, National Flavors, located in Kalamazoo, develops hundreds of new flavors for the packaged food and beverage industry. Consumer preferences vary — represented by the flavors you see in each aisle of the grocery store — but I prefer these flavors:

Flavors that evoke great vacation memories

The taste of a food or beverage can transport you back in time, making flavor and memories go together. Often a certain aroma will evoke a specific place or event in your life. When I smell mothballs, for example, I remember my nanny’s house, specifically the closet in her guest room. My favorite vacation flavor is Tropical Mango because it reminds me of traveling to Mexico and Latin America. The complex flavor of mango tastes like a peach, apricot, melon and nectarine, with a little citrus and honey too. The blend of flavors delivers a more intense taste than any one of these fruits on its own. For me, mango flavor is linked with a poolside cocktail on a sunny afternoon. Sometimes it carries memories of brain freezes or hangovers, too, but in a happy way.

Birthday cake

My love affair with birthday cake flavor echoes my fondness for vacation flavors. Birthdays conjure up memories of fun gatherings with friends and family, candles and presents. Birthdays usually include a light, fluffy vanilla or chocolate cake topped with sweet frosting and, if you’re lucky, confetti candies. Birthday cake flavor has taken over the grocery store — it’s in yogurt, bubblegum, popcorn, vodka, ice cream and protein powders. Now I can celebrate my birthday every day and manage my weight at the same time, getting the great taste of birthday cake without the carbs, sugar or fat of real cake.

Bourbon and whiskey flavors

These dark, grain-based flavors are often described as sweet at first taste. But the blend of grains and variations in the fermenting process create sweetness that can taste like vanilla, caramel, custard, butterscotch, maple, honey or chocolate. Since bourbons and whiskeys are aged in charred oak barrels, the sweetness often has a woody or smoky flavor. Bourbon and whiskey flavors are now spilling into foods, adding a sophisticated twist to meats, pie fillings, sauces and snack nuts. My all-time favorite use of bourbon and whiskey flavors is in luscious bourbon butter pecan ice cream. The distinctive flavor and smooth creaminess of this ice cream and the sweet crunch of nuts are simply wonderful.

Spicy fruit flavors

Borrowing culinary techniques and flavor ideas from global cuisines is not new, but in 2018 we saw candy companies tapping into America’s interest in Latin American flavors. Jolly Rancher Hotties, Sweet Heat Skittles and Starburst Sweet Heat are a few spiced-up options from mainstream brands. Spicy fruit flavors have fun names too, like Angry Watermelon, Flamin’ Orange and Sizzlin’ Strawberry. The heat comes from more than the cinnamon found in Red Hots or Atomic Fireballs. Spicy fruits have a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, habanero or sriracha, but at milder levels than the head-sweating flavors of authentic Mexican candies, to be more U.S.-friendly. It’s a toss-up when choosing my favorite — either spicy watermelon sour ropes or any dried fruit covered in chile spice.


Vanilla may seem like a plain, basic flavor to have as a favorite, but its distinctive sweet creaminess makes it the final pick on my list. Vanilla is a popular and versatile ingredient found in foods and beverages as well as perfumes, cosmetics and even household products. The increasing demand for a plant that takes three to five years to produce vanilla beans has caused vanilla prices to rise. The purest vanillas cost 10 times more than a gallon of gasoline. Fortunately, less expensive alternatives are available. I like Bourbonnais Vanilla, which adds a sweet, cherry note with woody undertones to the warmth of vanilla.


About our Author

Polly Barrett

Polly Barrett has worked in the flavor ingredient industry for approximately 20 years, most recently as director of Research & Development and Business Development for National Flavors. Prior to joining National Flavors, she worked in the research labs at Kalsec, a Kalamazoo-based company that produces spice and herb flavor extracts and other products for the food and beverage industry. She has extensive experience developing, testing and launching new flavor products. Barrett has a Ph.D. from Western Michigan University, a master’s degree in food science from Kansas State University, a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Kalamazoo College and a Sensory and Consumer Studies certificate from the University of California-Davis.