There are fewer things more iconic for winter than the image of sipping hot chocolate by a fire or prepping a dinner table full of spiced treats and piles of holiday cookies. This year is no exception for trending foods to be sprinkled with cinnamon or veggies roasted with lots of savory butter, but there are a few surprises in store for a more health-conscious populous still looking to indulge. With holiday-themed LTOs debuting to a world in need of comforting, consumers are craving nostalgic flavors more than ever. Here are some of the top Winter Holiday flavor trends to look out for as 2020 comes to an end.

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Mainstay Favorites Made New

It’s not the holidays without sugar, spice, and everything nice. This year, brands are getting more creative than ever to give new life and edge to popular flavors that are well-known and loved by consumers who want more exciting variety in their LTO.

Mulling spices, especially cinnamon, are synonymous with winter foods because of their warm and comforting quality that’s searched out by consumers when the weather gets cold. Cinnamon is a mainstay on dessert menus as a topper to many fried dough dishes, but has also crept into appetizer and entrée menus as a butter infusion, and in drinks, often in thick, dairy-based cocktails at the bar or as cinnamon soda, debuting in 2020. It is also prevalent on coffee menus, with some popular coffee brands debuting spice-based lattes this year, including citrus and mulling spice latte, holiday spice coffee, as well as creamers, like the cinnamon dolce creamer. Other trending spice creations this year include pumpkin pie spice hummus, nutmeg in Mexican hot chocolate and hollandaise, and peppermint mocha coffee and ice cream.

Hand in hand with spice is cranberry, and this year, the fruit cake is making a comeback, marketed as rustic spice cakes topped with cranberries. Cranberry is also a popular flavor for non-alcoholic drinks, particularly white cranberry, and as a grenadine syrup or festive topper for winter cocktails.

Hearty produce, like kale and sweet potato, shine in multiple categories. For sweet potato, although known at Thanksgiving as a delicious baked side with a sprinkle of nutmeg a pie, it is emerging as a sweet, creamy dessert beyond pie as ice cream and puddings; white sweet potato is also on the rise as a milder flavor option to orange. Kale is also emerging as a trendy juiced ingredient to spiked cocktails and as a pickled side dish for meat dishes.

Emerging Flavor Trends

While squash and spice top the list for winter flavors, there are a few new notable foods making waves on winter menus that could soon become classics themselves, according to a report from Technomic. Thumbelina carrots are small, tender carrots grown only during winter and early spring that have a round, beet-like shape that makes them stand out on a plate. Moody Tongue in Chicago combines them with pork cheek, chanterelle mushroom, potato puree, and bacon.

For a new spin on kale, spiarello is an heirloom broccoli variety related to broccoli rabe that has an appearance similar to kale or other leafy greens and is prepared the same way. On Lyla Lila’s menu in Atlanta, spigarello is prepared with grilled octopus, cannellini beans, lemon, and pistachio.

Citrus might not be the first flavor to spring to mind in winter, but the lulo fruit, native to South America, reaches its peak in winter months and has a flavor similar to lemon or pineapple, making it the perfect winter cocktail mixer to help remind drinkers of warmer days ahead. Mariel in Boston makes a Malecon cocktail with lulo, rum, lime juice, and mint soda.

Christmas Cookie-Inspired Sweets

Christmas cookies are a winter staple and are one of those extra special LTOs that carry a feeling of comfort and nostalgia along with their distinctly “holiday” taste. Brands are tapping into that cookie nostalgia by incorporating those well-known flavors into their own foods as limited-time winter offerings, most notable being chocolate chip cookie coffee creamer and sugar cookie popcorn. Ice cream isn’t exactly well-known as a winter treat, but to tap into the cold-weather dessert market, brands have debuted Christmas cookie-inspired flavors, like gingerbread and snickerdoodle.

RELATED: Innovation Meets Nostalgia in Winter Holidays Comfort Food

Flavors of Winter in Craft Alcohol

Wintery flavors have seen a rise in innovation and popularity across multiple categories as people search out more comforting and indulgent options for seasonal treats and drinks. As reported by Mintel, craft alcohol is no exception to embracing Christmas and popular flavors into beers, especially, to create holiday LTOs that tap into nostalgia and flavors found in other common winter cocktails. This is done through adding ginger, honey, cloves, orange peel, and cinnamon to make spiced lagers; cherry and cranberry ales to remind drinkers of cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving; and chocolate, caramel, and sea salt stouts for a heavier, comforting drink to sip in lieu of hot chocolate in front of a fire.

Meat-Free Dinners and Health-Conscious Indulgence

With the global rise of meat-free alternatives, people are switching to a plant-based menu for their holiday meals this year. In America 34% of polled Americans said they are limiting their meat intake all or most of the time, according to a report by Mintel. This includes buying soy and vegan meat options or substituting a meat entrée with a hearty winter vegetable, like squash. Brands are embracing the meat-free normal by offering easy-to-prepare-at-home soy burger sliders, squash spring rolls, and meatless turkey roasts stuffed with kale, cranberry, and rice.

Desserts are also getting the “-free” treatment this year as more dairy-free and keto-friendly sweets enter the market to allow health-conscious consumers a guilt-free alternative, including brands of low-calorie ice cream pints offering LTO gingerbread flavor. These consumers can also start their day or mix a cocktail with sweet dairy alternative in coffee and eggnog mixers that are high-protein, keto-approved, caffeine-free, lactose-free, gluten-free, and sugar-free and come in fun, seasonal flavors like maple pumpkin, sweet cream, and gingerbread.

This series is backed by our Seasonality Initiative where we help our customers develop pipelines of new concepts and flavor ideas for the seasons and major occasions like the Winter Holidays.

When most folks think of seasonality it’s normally in preparation of Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall; but when consumers, more specifically foodies, think of seasonality it is usually in anticipation of pumpkin spice lattes or breast cancer pink cookies. At Symrise we are constantly looking for ways to innovate and that means going beyond the scope of normal. It also means not only looking for inspiration within, but outside of the box — our box being the food and beverage space.

If you have questions or would like to learn more about our initiative please contact us.

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