What is seasoning? The words ‘seasoning, masala, spices, flavours’ are many a time used interchangeably, and general definitions that one might find on sources like Wikipedia convey, ‘Seasoning is the process of supplementing food via herbs, salt, or spices intended to enhance a particular flavour’,there by affirming the interchangeable usage of the terms.
However, Larousse Gastronomique (the bible for food connoisseurs), states that to season and to flavour are not the same thing! The word seasoning is a far more complex term, true to its definition of supplementing food to enhance a particular flavour or a set of flavours. It includes Spices, Salt, Sugar, Flavours, Colours, Flavour Enhancers, Gums, Fillers, Anti-Caking Agents, Acids and Souring Agents, and more.
It can be sweet or savoury. Each of the ingredients present in the seasoning mix thus has a specific role in the overall flavour delivery of the particular food product. It is thus a complex interplay of various senses (taste, aroma, colour) that needs to be mastered to deliver an outstanding seasoning.
Furthermore, the base product has its own set of flavour parameters, and to deliver an overall intended flavour, some taste parameters need to be masked, some enhanced, and some need to be moderated. Thus, a well-designed seasoning combines and complements the various flavours to deliver ‘the final eating experience’ etching the product in the consumer’s mind. Teams of experts comprising market researchers, chefs, food technologists, and others work together to create seasoning mixes which are then applied to the base product at the appropriate stage in the manufacturing/preparation process to deliver the intended flavour.
For example, we have Masala Maggi to the Spanish Tomato Tango Lays, the French Onion Dip Pringles to the Pani Puri flavoured Dry Dosa, and many more such products.
In terms of applications, seasonings find applications across a wide range of processed food products ranging from snack foods to sauces/dressings, marinades to coatings, and also in the beverage, dairy, bakery, confectionery, and meat processing categories. To enable consistent delivery of flavour across such a wide variety of applications wherein some food products are consumed as it is, some are fried, cooked, steamed, baked, roasted, sauteed, it requires a thorough understanding of the art, craft, and science of flavour delivery as well as the whole set of complex ingredients to make it work under all situations.
One might argue – why use seasoning at all? We can make do with mixing and blending spices, herbs, powders, and so on every time during the manufacturing process. An important point to note here is that spices, herbs and so on are agri-products, and thus, the taste, texture, colour, flavour, vary from farm to farm, location to location, and more. In addition, there are a number of additives that are used to stabilise the flavour, enhance the flavour delivery of specific flavours, adhere to the surface during the application process, deliver a specific colour, ensure a specific type of aroma, and so on.
The applications are numerous, and thus, the brands need to ensure that every time their product is consumed, there is identical and consistent flavour delivery. For example, KFC chicken served to a customer in any corner of India at any point in time during the course of the year is the exact same standard and consistency. This cannot be achieved if the KFC chicken marinade has to be made separately at each and every outlet, each and every time. Thereby, the role of standardised seasonings becomes important which is manufactured by larger seasoning manufacturers who ensure products are delivered consistently as per defined specifications.
In terms of applications, seasoning is one of the largest and fastest-growing categories in the food ingredient space. It finds applications not only in the traditional food segments but also in the latest and hottest trending opportunities,-plant-based foods, vegan foods and so on. It is estimated that this market has been growing at a rate of 7-12% over the past decade. Seasonings include various categories, and some of the categories (condiment sauces, chutney and relishes, dressings, and tomato pastes and purees) have outperformed overall the growth rate and exhibited CAGR as high as 11-13% in the past five years.
As per Euromonitor International Sector Capsule Reports, the market for sauces, dressings, and condiments reached US$3.6 billion in 2021, and the market of savoury snacks reached $6 billion in 2022. Seasoning is a very critical ingredient in both these fast-growing market segments and thus is expected to demonstrate a double-digit growth rate in the coming years. This is expected on account of rapid urbanisation, the conversion from unbranded to branded products, and the demand for convenience and diverse palate experiences of different people, among other things.
A combination of large MNCs with their international affiliations and partnerships with global food majors are major drivers of growth. In addition, there are several domestic players who have established a significant presence in this space due to their agility, nimbleness, and a better understanding of local palate requirements. The segment has gotten a big boost from the robust innovation that is happening courtesy of the numerous start-ups that have come up during the last 5-10 years.
Several insurgent brands are entering the market such as clean label foods, specialised regional sauces and gravies, baked and popped snacks, ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat noodles/pastas and meal solutions, alongside new food ingredients like tempeh, innovative mithai and namkeens, the rapid rise in branded nuts, seeds, and dryfruits, functional foods, have showcased the potential for profitability. This has kept the wheels of the seasoning manufacturers and suppliers active and turning. With innovation in top gear and rapid growth in the food processing sector, only the sky is the limit.