It Tastes Like Christmas

If there’s one time of the year when consumers are most likely to temporarily abandon their healthy diets to focus more on flavor than function, it’s Christmas. Sweets and other indulgent foods are extraordinarily popular during the holiday season as individuals and families plan for parties, dinners, unexpected guests, and gift-giving.


‘Tis the season to be sprinkled with cinnamon, topped with marshmallows, drizzled in caramel, or flavored with peppermint. Here are some of the season’s top flavor trends.


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Although clean, natural ingredients and low-sugar labels are exploding in popularity this year, these healthy choices may be displaced for the holidays by dessert-inspired drinks such as gingerbread lattes, caramel-flavored coffees, and peppermint hot chocolates. Beverages are offering more sophisticated ingredients, including unique flavor choices that evoke feelings of nostalgia and indulgence.


Keep a mix of classics and new creations on your beverage menus and include a range of flavors to appeal to a wider audience, such as gingerbread, salted caramel, peppermint, orange, and spiced chai. Pumpkin spice will likely always be a holiday favorite, and maple, white chocolate, cinnamon, and apple rarely budge from the holiday favorites list.


New twists on traditional favorites


Consumers love their Christmas traditions, but today’s adventurous consumer is also looking for ways to make it fresh. Ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and other classics remain important tastes of the season, but a new ingredient or two can push a traditional dish into the “trendy” category.


We’re seeing a range of unexpected flavor twists emerge. Salted caramel, clementine, and gingerbread spice are popping up in unusual places, such as in salted caramel mince pies, chocolate- or butter-based cookies with clementine, or meat stuffing with gingerbread spice. Mashed vegetables remain popular, but they aren’t all potatoes now–food companies and home chefs alike are experimenting with mashed parsnips, cauliflower, pumpkin, carrots, and rutabagas. We’re also seeing the addition of new ingredients to classic mashed potatoes such as celery, root veggies, or apples.


Plant-based mainstays in the spotlight


For consumers who want to indulge in the culinary delights of Christmas but also keep their healthy-eating game strong, there are plant-based and healthier alternatives to everything from holiday proteins to sides to desserts. Basic vegan essentials will be in demand throughout the season, such as almond milk, tempeh, and nutritional yeast. Prepared plant-based proteins are also popular, such as vegan “meatloaf” and alternatives to classic meat dishes.


Seitan is a newer product rapidly gaining ground as a meat-free alternative. Made from wheat gluten, it can be sliced or crumbled for use in a wide range of recipes. Restaurant menus are sporting lots of vegan side dishes, with options such as apple cider Brussels sprouts and vegan green bean casserole or vegan garlic mashed potatoes using coconut milk and non-dairy milk alternatives to create creaminess.


Cocktails, cocktails everywhere


Last but not least, bars and restaurants should be getting into the holiday spirit with holiday-themed mixed drinks to celebrate the flavors and festivities of the season. Warm up your customers this Christmas with an assortment of festive flavors such as a wintery Sea Breeze with pomegranate, grapefruit, cranberries, and mint; a tantalizing “Dirty Shirley” with black cherry bourbon, lemon-lime soda, cherry syrup, and grenadine for a touch of Christmassy color; an adultified version of hot chocolate featuring peppermint schnapps and marshmallows; a winter Sangria with apples, cranberries, raspberries, and rosemary; classic mulled wine; a salted caramel martini; or a traditional eggnog complete with vodka and rum (try crushed gingerbread or spice cookies for garnish).


One drink that we love is a “cinnamon candy apple” shot with red cinnamon whiskey layered over green sour apple schnapps for a look as festive as its taste.