KANSAS CITY — Ingredient selection opens a world of promotable opportunities for sauces, dressings and marinades. Korean barbecue, Thai and Indian curries, and spicy habanero are some of the flavor options. Health claims such as low fat, reduced sugar and reduced sodium may be achieved through the choice of starch and other ingredients. Yet before formulation begins, product developers should consider allergen issues and supply availability.

Two flavor trends are standing out this year, said Daniel Espinoza, corporate research and development chef for OFI, a business of Singapore-based Olam International.

Comforting, earthy flavors inspired by nature appeal to consumers seeking a sense of certainty.

“This holds true even as they adopt a more plant-based diet,” he said. “This trend is all about maximizing delicious, rich umami flavors in sauces and marinades with ingredients like roasted garlic and mushrooms, truffles, nuts and seaweed.”

Travel restrictions have consumers eager to explore foreign cuisines such as bright, vibrant and spicy sauces, he added.

“As restrictions begin to ease, this desire for interesting new flavors has raised the profile of fiery marinades and table sauces featuring flavorful chili varieties like habanero, ancho and guajillo,” Mr. Espinoza said, adding OFI recently acquired the US-based chili pepper business from Mizkan America, Inc.

The combination of Mexican and Asian flavors is increasing, with spicy chili Korean barbecue sauce being one example, said Mabel Chacko, project leader, technical development and innovation for Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill.

“Another example is combining Latin American with traditional American flavors, as seen in a habanero blue cheese dressing,” Ms. Chacko said. “Hot and spicy flavors have also seen much success in this category. Additionally, Asian flavors such as soy, miso, Korean and ginger, as well as Mediterranean flavors like harissa, olive oil, garlic and cumin, continue to have a strong influence in sauces, dressings and marinades.”

Allergen and supply issues

Consumers tend to explore global cuisines through countries’ traditional sauces such as Korean gochujang and bulgogi sauces, Japanese yakiniku and tonkatsu, and Thai and Indian curries, said Tyler Burns, food scientist for Wixon, Inc., St. Francis, Wis.

Coconut milk is used in many types of curry, but allergy issues may crop up with that ingredient.

“Additionally, sourcing clean label coconut milk powder has been difficult due to supply chain issues,” Ms. Burns said. “Some developers omit coconut milk completely from their formulations resulting in a less authentic flavor. However, there are many allergen-free coconut flavors available, which when paired with starch and gums for mouthfeel, allow one to get closer to a more traditional tasting curry.”

Galangal and kaffir lime are other Thai curry ingredients that may be expensive and limited in supply.

“Galangal can be replaced with ginger, and kaffir lime can be replaced with lime with great success,” Ms. Burns said. “The overall flavor of the curry when employing these substitutes will vary from the original but will still allow the developer to provide the unique aromatic qualities characteristic of coconut curries.”

Other ingredients may affect flavors unfavorably.

“Some ingredients can mute flavors while others may bring in off-notes that distract from the product’s intended flavor profile,” said Shiva Elayedath, senior technical services manager for Cargill, Minneapolis. “We can sometimes see this with starches, for example. Hands down, tapioca starches offer the cleanest, most neutral flavor, which is one of the reasons we added SimPure tapioca starches to our product line last year. These starches have a clean flavor release that lets all the flavor nuances of your sauce, dressing or marinade shine.”

Native waxy potato starches maintain a neutral, clean flavor profile compatible with a range of flavors, said Carter Foss, technical sales director, American Key Food Products, Closter, NJ. The starch products may be used in applications such as ketchup, sauces, vegan mayo, marinades and Alfredo sauce, said Philippe Benyair, senior vice president of sales for American Key Food Products.

“Native waxy potato products help to provide a smooth, creamy texture and also can have an appealing and glossy appearance,” Mr. Benyair said. “They can help develop dressings and sauces so consumers can see the herbs and seasonings for visual appeal.”

Reducing fat, sugar, sodium

The choice of starch will affect health attributes like the levels of fat and sugar.

“Native waxy potato starches can reduce fat because they give a creamy mouthfeel that is normally associated with fat,” Mr. Foss said. “It replaces the fat while retaining the taste. It is ideal for plant-based and low/reduced-fat products. They can also be used for building back texture when eggs are removed.”

Ms. Chacko of Ingredion said waxy potato starches work well in low-fat and low-calorie sauces and dressings because they offer high viscosity at reduced use levels when compared to other starches like corn, tapioca or rice. The high viscosity provides enhanced mouthfeel and a cleaner flavor release.

“Its dual functionality of high viscosity and creamy mouthfeel makes this starch well-suited in low-fat/calorie savory applications as it offers the opportunity for formulators to reduce fat or starch,” she said. “An area of opportunity in the sauces and dressing space is in keto-friendly formulations, where reducing carbohydrates is beneficial to maintaining the standards for keto. In addition, the high viscosity provided by waxy potato starch can also partially replace oil in salad dressings by up to 25%, where the starch mimics fat, resulting in a very smooth and creamy texture that works well in lower-fat dressings.”

Ingredion has reduced potato starch use by as much as 30% and still achieved similar viscosity when using its waxy potato Ultra-Tex modified starch instead of corn starch. The company also reduced oil use by 25% without compromising the thickness of a dressing by using waxy potato starch.

Fat-heavy ingredients like cream, mayonnaise, oil and butter may be found in sauces and cream-based salad dressings, Ms. Burns of Wixon said.

“The amount of these high-fat ingredients can be reduced and substituted with starch and gums for mouthfeel and viscosity,” she said. “Yeast extracts, umami enhancers and dairy flavors are used to replace the savory, milky and buttery notes.”

To reduce sweetener levels in marinades, flavor enhancers may magnify sweetness and non-caloric sweeteners and flavors may adjust taste and mouthfeel, he added.

SimPure soluble rice flour provides a creamy mouthfeel and builds back a lot of the textural sensation that is lost when fat is removed from a formula, Mr. Elayedath of Cargill said. Reducing sugar may improve the nutritional profile of sweet dressings, barbecue sauces and similarly flavored products.

“In these applications, a high-intensity sweetener like stevia can help deliver the sweet taste while enabling brands to craft products with less sugar or fewer calories,” Mr. Elayedath said.

Potassium chloride, which may appear on ingredient labels as potassium salt, helps in sodium reduction by providing similar sensory characteristics, said Janice Johnson, PhD, food science adviser at Cargill Salt.

“In addition, reformulation with potassium salt allows for potassium enrichment, a nutrient known to help mitigate the effect of sodium on blood pressure,” she said.

Herbs and spices have been shown to help reduce salt, sugar and fat content without compromising on taste, said Mr. Espinoza of OFI.  Spices such as paprika, cumin, cayenne and ginger complement salty flavors and allow for lower overall sodium content. “With immune health remaining a top consumer concern, adding herbs and spices with perceived health benefits to sauces can help introduce a greater depth of flavor and a health halo,” he said. “Ingredients like garlic and chili peppers have long been hailed for their links to immunity and beneficial antioxidants, and spices such as turmeric, black pepper and ginger have been shown to aid healthy digestion and reduce systemic inflammation.”