America's taste for sour flavor feeds food industry

Why is Greek yogurt suddenly trendy?

Our national hunger for salty and sweet flavors feeds a massive junk food industry.

But there’s a whole different taste currently driving the business of what we eat. Sour foods and flavors are riding high at the moment, and our growing desire for them is changing the food industry.

Companies are cashing in. In 2007, Greek yogurt was a crunchy co-op item, with 1 percent market share.

Now it’s all over grocery store shelves, with more than a third of the market. The second fastest growing beer style: Belgian sour, up 31 percent.

"We’ve seen people willing to go to extremes with hot and spicy. Let’s see how far we can get them to go with sour."

Mary Chapman, food consultant

More sour is the next step in our appetite for bigger, bolder flavors.  Demand is growing much like hot and spicy flavors soared before. Sour foods are also booming because they’re the opposite of sugary foods and perceived to be healthy.

In addition, sour and fermented flavors are reaching more Americans as global cuisine -- particularly certain Asian foods -- move into the U.S. mainstream. Americans should pucker up. More sour foods and bigger sour flavors are on the way.


In addition to this Marketplace audio report, Mark Garrison also reported a companion story you can read at Slate.

Kai Ryssdal: Think, for a second, about food. About how it tastes, in particular. The biggies -- sweet and salty -- have helped create and sustain a massive industry in junk foods. Or, at the very least, foods that aren't all that healthy.

There's a whole different taste driving the business of what we eat now. Sour is riding high at the moment. Marketplace's Mark Garrison reports from New York.


Mark Garrison: Katherine Alford can see your food future. She runs Food Network’s test kitchen. Her team takes cutting edge food and figures out what’s ready for prime time and daytime, all across America.

Katherine Alford: We’re working, as strangely as it may seem, on Thanksgiving in June, because you always work way far ahead of time.

Mouthwatering food is everywhere: Flipping in skillets, plunging into deep fryers and whipping around on carts. These days, sour flavor is abundant. Alford unscrews a jar and we crunch into some pickled carrots. Years ago, their pickle recipes had to be way sweeter. And the lemon vinaigrette she’s whisking has lots more lemon than in the past. Food companies are cashing in. In 2007, Greek yogurt was a crunchy co-op item. Now it’s all over supermarket shelves, with more than a third of the market. The second fastest growing beer style: Belgian sour, up 31 percent. More sour is the next step in our appetite for bigger, bolder flavors.

Mary Chapman: We’ve seen people willing to go to extremes with hot and spicy. Let’s see how far we can get them to go with sour.

Mary Chapman tracks flavor trends for the food consultancy Technomic. Sour foods are also popular because of what they aren’t: Sweet. Kazia Jankowski  is with Sterling-Rice Group, which advises various global food companies. They’re doing more with sour foods, in part because they strike consumers as healthier.

Kazia Jankowski: Taking that tart flavor and bringing it forward connotes that sense of, ok, this isn’t a sugar-laden product.

So pucker up. More sour foods are coming to stores near you. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter for Marketplace and substitute host for the Marketplace Morning Report, based in New York.

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