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12 spices are hot with cooks

What are the top flavors for 2003? McCormick & Co., the folks who make seasonings, recently published a Flavor Forecast. The largest spice and flavoring company in the world, McCormick has been in the flavor business since 1889. So it's no wonder McCormick has its finger on the flavor pulse.

Of McCormick's "12 Flavors to Watch," how many are in your cupboard?

Bay leaf: Use it in both savory and sweet dishes.

Chile peppers: People are heating up to all kinds of them — chipotles, anchos, poblanos, jalapeos, etc.

Cinnamon: It's now used in all kind of savory sauces, not just sweets.

Coriander/cilantro: Coriander leaves are known as cilantro in Mexico and the United States. Coriander seed and leaves are essential flavors in Mexican, Middle Eastern, north African and Asian cuisines.

Lemon grass: Both floral and fragrant, it adds exotic appeal to a dish.

Mustard: This versatile, pungent spice imparts a big, bold flavor to meats, seafood and vegetables.

Pepper: Black, white and green peppercorns can be used alone or in combination, cracked, ground or whole.

Sea salt: The most basic flavoring has gone gourmet.

Sesame: Popular in Asian and Mediterranean cooking.

Turmeric: This bright yellow seasoning gives an earthy flavor to North African, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and Indian cuisines.

Vanilla: It now stars in a variety of sweet and savory foods. Vanilla Coke, anyone?

Wasabi powder: Consumers first became acquainted with this flavor as a sushi accompaniment.

McCormick also identified seven big trends. Most of these we've discussed in past stories and columns, so it seems that Utah is not totally off the cutting edge.

Extreme flavor. People are seeking louder, brighter, deeper and more complex flavors. Restaurant menus won't list just "baked salmon" but "pan-seared, pepper-crusted salmon with wasabi mashed potatoes." Snack foods even use the word "extreme" on the label.

The shrinking globe. Where ethnic foods once were primarily lumped into broad categories, people now want the authentic, regional flavors of each culture. Within the "Asian" category, people may explore Vietnamese, Korean and Thai cuisines. Instead of "Italian" food, diners look for the various regions of Italy.

Food as an occasion. People are getting back into food-sharing, social activities, such as dinner parties. Dishes that are passed around and sampled are popular: fondue, tapas, dim sum, satay and sushi.

You can take it with you: Convenience continues to drive consumer food purchases. In fact, many food purchases are consumed while driving. Half of the successful products introduced in the past two years featured convenience — cereal and milk bars, soup in a disposable cup, yogurt in a squeeze tube and pocket sandwiches. Many people snack instead of eating complete meals.

The varying degrees of heat: People love the fiery heat of chiles and hot sauces, and are learning to pair them with ingredients to balance the fiery notes. Vanilla and mango in a sauce can smooth the pepper's bite, or a curry dish is set off with a cooling cucumber sauce.

The green season: While some folks are going for convenience snacks, others want to enrich their health with natural and organic foods. Supermarkets have increased the amount of organic ingredients on their shelves, and restaurants feature more organic ingredients.

Home on the range: High-protein diets have brought meat back to the center of the plate. The average American consumed an estimated 218 pounds of meat last year. Grilling is big, in many new forms — Polynesian pit, Mexican barbacoa, Korean barbecue, wood smoking, spit roasting.