A teardrop of salt, a whisper of saffron, a drizzle of lobster: luxury in small doses was the keynote at a giant food industry fair outside Paris this week. Out with mustard cubes and marshmallow fluff: simplicity and taste was the common thread among the 19 products to receive a special innovation prize, whittled from a shortlist of about 400 at this year’s SIAL fair.
But simple need not mean predictable, with flavour coming in sprays, as tiny grains to roll on the tongue or as bite-sized mouthfuls. “The global trends are ‘pleasure, health, practicality’,” summed up Xavier Terlet, analyst and consultant for the international food fair, which wraps up today.
“In times of crisis, with the focus back on basics and centred on the home, what works best are goodies for sharing. Not the nasty, cheapest option, but little, unassuming luxuries.”
Examples could be a lobster oil, made by the last remaining canning plant on the Brittany island of Groix — which conjures up the luxurious flavour from grapeseed oil and crustacean carcasses.
“You can add it to a fish fillet, a seafood salad or even mashed potatoes,” the company’s Emmanuelle Bernhardt said. Likewise, truffle-flavoured Cajun nuts offer a hint of black gold, at a fraction of the price. Or saffron, one of the most expensive spices on the planet, offered as a liquid spray, by a Paris region company, Foodbiotic, which developed it over two years of research.
“It’s ready to use, and easier than having to soak the filaments,” said the firm’s Maiten de Saint-Paul. On the banks of Lake Maggiore in northern Italy, Acetificio Mengazzoli, a 19th-century vinegar manufacturer, landed on a way to bottle liquid salt.
How is it different from seawater?
“Basically, our water is clean,” explained the firm’s head of exports Marco Nodari, before the red, white and black vials filled with salts from Hawaii, the Mediterranean or the Atlantic. “You can use very little water over vegetables and it’s a quarter of the amount of salt you would normally use,” he said, pointing at official advice for people to reduce their average intake of sodium.
Precision is often the watchword, like the crunchy black pearls of balsamic vinegar, made by a eastern French firm Coolkal, which promise to deliver the same, tiny dose with each bite.