Leading Chefs Put the Spotlight on Flavor Complexity
After decades of dieting and mass-produced food, consumers are clamoring for a tasty alternative. And Wild Blueberries are well positioned to satisfy that hunger.
According to the Power of Wild, a groundbreaking national study of consumer attitudes, Consumers believe Wild Blueberries make a product taste better, in addition to being healthier and more sustainable. “Wild foods are perceived as premium in the context of health and taste benefits,” the research said.
These preferences are even stronger among Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) consumers, —a $290 billion market that represents 1 in 4 adult Americans, or 41 million people. Among LOHAS consumers, 72% believe wild foods are healthier and that they taste better; 74% of LOHAS consumers said that they would buy more wild foods; 65% of LOHAS consumers said they would be willing to pay more for wild foods.
Here are four ways that Wild Blueberries are a cut above when it comes to flavor.
1. Wild Blueberries have a rich multi-faceted taste. In a single field of Wild Blueberries, there are thousands of varieties of dark and light berries, said David Yarborough, Wild Blueberry specialist and professor of horticulture at the University of Maine. “One advantage of that diversity is that it creates a more complex mixture of flavors,” he said. “All Wild Blueberry plants have a little different fruit—a little sweet, a little sour, and several types of more complex flavor. In a large mixture of berries you get something very unique that you really can’t duplicate in a cultivated field.”
Tom Gumpel, former head baker and Vice President of R&D at Panera, said that complexity makes Wild Blueberries well suited for confections. “I’m excited about the potential because in candy making, flavor is about layering,” said Gumpel, former Dean of the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park. “A Wild Blueberry is a little sweet, a little fruity, and you put it with white chocolate, or citrus to give that brightness and cut through the sugar, and dip it into dark chocolate which is a touch bitter and a touch of salt all wrapped up into one.”
2. Wild Blueberries have more intense flavor. Because Wild Blueberries have a higher skin-to-pulp ratio than cultivated blueberries—more skin and less pulp— they have a more intense flavor, said Yarborough. And for chefs and food producers, that can have important cost implications. “Because of the intense flavor, you can use 25% less and get the same flavor impact,” said Gumpel. “If you can use 25% less, your cost is going to be 25% less.” What’s more, there are 25% more servings of Wild Blueberries per case. Gumpel said that at Panera, the Wild Blueberry scone was a seasonal item too popular to take off the menu. “You can’t really put a big frozen blueberry into a scone and have the same intense flavor.”
3. Wild Blueberries stand up against other bold flavors. Wild Blueberries hold their flavor even when they’re cooked alongside other stronger flavors, said Nicole DeBloois, Director of R&D with JMH Premium, a Salt Lake City, Utah-based company that manufactures flavor concentrates, soup bases, sauce concentrates, and RTU sauces.
“We feel like you could pair it with anything and the Wild Blueberry will maintain its distinctive character,” she said. The Wild Blueberry complexity still comes through even when it’s paired with wild game. She made a Wild Blueberry Demi Glace with wild elk. “Wild game has a stronger flavor than some of the standard supermarket meats,” she said. “To have the sweetness, acidity, and bright floral flavor of the Wild Blueberry coming through paired really nicely with heavier, gamey notes of the elk.” Similarly, a puree she developed with Wild Blueberries and hot chiles for a barbecue sauce also was a winner. “When we create a cooked barbecue sauce, it brought out the jammy notes in the Wild Blueberries,” she said. “Barbecue is really trending right now. So, it’s really kind of cool that we can take a trend that’s going on with hot chiles and combine it with something that’s also trending like Wild Blueberries.” And then there was the Wild Blueberry balsamic vinegar sauce that her firm created for soft serve ice cream. “It was awesome,” she said.
4. Wild Blueberries bring out the best in other foods. Wild Blueberries can also be used to give classic sauces a modern twist, said DeBloois. She developed a Wild Blueberry Glace de Veau—a classic French sauce with veal stock and wine used for braising beef or steak. “Incorporating Wild Blueberries with the wine really boosts the flavors of the other components,” she said. “Taking a classic French sauce and combining it with Wild Blueberries takes something that people have seen and are familiar with and puts it on its head a bit. We thought it was fantastic.”