Designed as toppings for breads, crackers and crudités, refrigerated spreads are a convenient way to add flavor to otherwise mundane foods. They also serve as an invitation for consumers to explore new flavor and ingredient combinations, many with an ethnic flair.

Multiple spreads on a buffet function as a means to appeal to the many taste preferences in social settings. When ordered from a menu, appetizer spreads provide diners with an interactive, break-the-ice start to a sit-down dinner.

The toppings start with a base ingredient that ranges from soft cheese to ground chickpeas. To the base, product developers add layers of flavors, often blending ingredients that sometimes seem incompatible but somehow come together in harmony when part of a spread.

Sweet treats trend upward

Sweet offerings such as Philadelphia Indulgence from Kraft Foods Group, Glenview, Ill., are becoming increasingly more common in the refrigerated spreads department. With the line, which made its debut about a year ago, Kraft adds indulgent ingredients such as chocolate or caramel to a cream cheese base, transforming the traditional breakfast bagel topping into a dessert spread for graham crackers, vanilla wafers or even strawberries.

Claiming to deliver all of the indulgence without the guilt, Schreiber Foods Inc., Green Bay, Wis., now offers two new chocolate-flavored cream cheese spreads under the Weight Watchers Cheese brand, which the company licenses from Weight Watchers International Inc., New York. Like all Weight Watchers products, this one flags a serving’s PointsPlus value, which is two.

Whipped Reduced Fat Chocolate Cream Cheese Spread and Whipped Reduced Fat Chocolate Raspberry Cream Cheese both contain 33% less fat than regular cream cheese. The inclusion of inulin assists with the fat reduction and also provides 2 grams of fiber per 1-oz serving. The company said the new chocolate whipped cream cheeses may be used as a dip for fruit, pretzels and a frosting option.

For those who crave the cream cheese experience but want to avoid dairy, Canada’s Daiya Foods Inc., Vancouver, B.C., recently introduced a spread that is suitable for vegan diets. Through a combination of plant-based gums, starches and oils, along with pea protein isolate, Daiya cream cheese-style spread claims to be free of the top eight allergens. Sold in 8-oz tubs, it is designed to spread and perform in recipes just like regular cream cheese. Varieties available include chive and onion, plain and strawberry.

Quark edging toward the mainstream

A European spread — quark — is gaining popularity in the United States due to recent introductions by two companies. PS Let’s Eat Inc., Irvine, Calif., gives quark a low-sugar, low-calorie spin with its use of a proprietary blend of two zero calorie sweeteners: stevia and erythritol. Sold under the brand elli, the nonfat fresh soft cheese is a nutrient-dense source of protein and calcium without the added sodium found in cream cheese. It may be enjoyed straight out of the cup, much like yogurt, as well as used in the same manner as cream cheese. Elli is available in five flavors — lemon, pineapple, red velvet, strawberry and plain. Each single-serve 5.3-oz cup contains 14 to 17 grams of protein and 80 to 90 calories, depending on the variety.

Quark is also the first offering from Milwaukee’s new Clock Shadow Creamery, operated by Cedar Grove Cheese, Plain, Wis. With a spreadable texture similar to whipped cream and a mild flavor, this quark comes only in a plain, neutral flavor. It has a three-week refrigerated shelf life, but may be stored frozen and thawed in the refrigerator. It comes in 8-oz and 16-oz containers and wholesale sizes.

The savory side

Swiss Colony Retail Brands, Monroe, Wis., under its “The Wisconsin Cheeseman” brand, now offers the Incredible Spreadables brand. The premium cheese spreads combine Wisconsin cheddar cheese and cream cheese with a variety of seasonings, vegetables and seafood.

The product is sold in 8-oz tubs and comes in eight varieties: Crab Delight, garden vegetable, garlic, Lobster Delight, shrimp Scampi, smoked salmon, spinach and sweet hot peppers. Smooth, creamy and easy to spread, the cheeses may be served with crackers, vegetables, pretzels, bagels or on sandwiches.

Rising Sun Farms, Phoenix, Ore., recently added Thai, cilantro and lime to its DipnSpread line. Created to meet demand for unique flavor profiles, Thai, cilantro and lime brings together the flavors of lemongrass, lime, cilantro and fresh ginger with a dash of coconut milk in a base of cream cheese.

“Our goal was to develop a flavor almost like a fine wine … smooth, bold and refreshing, a delight for the palate,” said Elizabeth Fujas, owner and president. “When we lost count of all the ‘wows’ during our test marketing, we knew we had a winner.”

Other flavors include artichoke Parmesan, gorgonzola, roasted sweet pepper, roasted garlic and chive and bacon cheddar with nitrate-free bacon. The line of cream cheese-based dips was designed for spreading on sandwiches, tortillas, cooked fish and burgers.

Sugar Brook Farms, Verona, Wis., markets Kelly’s Kitchen Gourmet Spreadable Cheeses. The products are packaged in clear 7-oz containers so consumers may see how the cheese base is loaded with flavorful ingredients. Varieties are garlic and herb, spinach Florentine and creamy blue cheese with chunky pear.

The company also is showing consumers that tapenade does not need to be just olives. It’s new offerings are: traditional tapenade with feta, kalamata olives, green olives, capers, garlic and parsley in olive oil; Mediterranean tapenade with goat and it features peppadews, black olives, goat cheese, garlic and parsley in olive oil; Spanish tapenade with Roth GranQueso roasted tomatoes, kalamata and black olives and spices in olive oil; and an Italian tapenade with Parmesan that includes pepperoncini, sweet peppers, green and black olives, Parmesan cheese, garlic and basil in olive oil.

Cheesemaker Kelly Longseth said the ingredients and texture make the tapenades unique.

“Our ingredients are chopped, not blended to a paste like some current products available,” she said. “They have a 90-day shelf life from time of production.”

The product is available in clear 6-oz containers.

Greek is the word

Greek yogurt increasingly is used as a base for flavorful spreads. And in keeping with the Mediterranean theme, the dips often are merchandized alongside hummus.

“Consumers don’t need another hummus, but they do want fresh alternatives and new flavor experiences that are just as healthy and convenient,” said Tim Ramsey, general manager and chief operating officer of La Terra Fina, Union City, Calif. “After a lot of research and mixing it up in the test kitchens, we’ve produced three new product lines that are inventive and original, yet on-trend with our foodie culture and increasingly refined palates.”

David Joiner, vice-president of production, said, “We tested these dips with consumers during the development process and received high marks for creative and enjoyable flavors, while maintaining a hummus-like consistency.”

Each of the three lines currently has two flavors. In the “salad inspired” line, there’s Greek kalamata olives and spinach and balsamic beet and white bean. The “creamy vegetable” line includes roasted yellow pepper and lentil and red lentil curry. The third line, “Mediterranean classics,” is all about adding chef-influenced flavors to popular stand-bys. Varieties include creamy spinach and bacon and caramelized onion.

Greek yogurt has made its way onto hummus, literally. Tryst Gourmet L.L.C., Alpharetta, Ga., now offers Eat Well Enjoy Life (EWEL) Hummus with Greek Yogurt. According to the company, lower-fat hummus products typically are made by reducing the tahini and oil and adding more water and beans. The process, unfortunately, results in a hummus that has little or no flavor and a greatly reduced smooth, creamy texture. The EWEL product development team looked at different ways to overcome this and finally found that by adding Greek yogurt they were able to achieve improved nutrition without sacrificing taste or texture. Through the combination of two of today’s more significant trends — Greek yogurt and hummus — the company is able to reduce the fat in half and the calories by a third, as compared to regular hummus.

“We see this marriage of Greek Yogurt and hummus as the perfect union of flavor, texture and superior nutrition all rolled into one sure-fire deli winner,” said Bob Ferraro, vice-president of sales.

The company also is finding success in its “the other bean hummus” line. Whereas traditional hummus is based on chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, EWEL uses other beans as a base and tops it with gourmet toppings. The line includes edamame hummus with red pepper and toasted sesame, yellow lentil hummus with sunflower seeds and apricot, and black bean hummus with spicy roasted corn relish.

Traditional chickpea hummus is still one of the more on-trend spreads in the supermarket as well as on all types of menus.

New players such as The Hummus Guy Corp., Petaluma, Calif., is rolling out namesake organic hummus seasoned with locally sourced ingredients. Innovative varieties include avocado and cilantro, and basil and Sundried tomato.

Grecian Delight Foods, Elk Grove Village, Ill., is making it easier to bring the taste of the Mediterranean to food service outlets. The company has developed a range of spreads that may be served with pita chips as an appetizer or used as a signature sauce in sandwiches. Varieties include Garden Feta Cheese Spread, Hummus, Baba Ghanoush (roasted eggplant) and Tzatziki.

Perhaps one of the most versatile food service spread concepts comes from H.J. Heinz Co., Pittsburgh. The Chef Francisco by Heinz 3-in-1 platform provides operator versatility. Each 3-in-1 variety is formulated for multiple reconstitution methods, giving operators three ways to customize their menu, while stocking only one frozen product. Reconstitute with water for a soup, whole milk for a savory sauce, or sour cream or Greek yogurt for a spreadable dip. There are 10 varieties, including familiar favorites such as creamy spinach and artichoke and Buffalo chicken, as well as more dynamic combinations such as Queso with Gauillo peppers and Caribbean-style Jerk chicken.

As consumer curiosity in ethnic and innovative flavors continues to grow, expect to see more interesting flavorful spreads in the supermarket and on menus.