CHICAGO — Watch out, ketchup, mustard and mayo. During the pandemic, consumers learned how to manipulate food flavors and textures to meet their preferences, and there’s no going back. Now, condiment formulators are exploring all types of mashups, including unique carriers, global fusions and varied consistencies, all intended to wow consumers.
“People want more and bolder flavors, and condiments are great delivery vehicles for new experiences,” said Ryan Kukuruzovic, corporate chef, Wixon, Saint Francis, Wis.
That’s what the Kraft Heinz Co., Chicago, offers in its new Heinz 57 Collection. The line of oil-based sauces comes in chili pepper, mandarin orange miso and roasted garlic varieties. The collection also includes two infused honeys: black truffle and hot chili.
“As an iconic brand, Heinz aims to accelerate culinary trends and create pathways for everyday consumers to discover vast culinary cultures,” said Ashleigh Gibson, head of marketing and strategy. “With the increase in chef-inspired cooking, the Heinz 57 Collection enhances culinary creations and transforms traditional dishes into dynamic creations.”
Billy Roberts, senior analyst of food and drink, Mintel, Chicago, and author of “US Condiments Market Report 2022,” said he believes it is paramount brands, especially long-established ones, get creative with modern flavors and textures. Mintel research showed consumers under 45 years old tend to have fewer than six condiments in their refrigerator, while those over 45 have more than six.
“Dips and sauces provide a blank canvas for creating myriad flavors and ingredients that the consumer can use to turn simple into sensational without loads of culinary skill,” said Holly Adrian, senior marketing manager, Sensient Natural Ingredients, Turlock, Calif.
Erika James, senior applications technologist – savory, Sensient, Hoffman Estates, Ill., added, “Sauces are an easy way to try unexplored cuisines with low risk. Consumers do not have to buy a lot of new ingredients to explore new and unique flavors.”
Trends in form and flavor
Mintel research from May 2021 showed 70% of US sauce/dip buyers use the condiment for dipping. More than half prefer creamy and savory products. Spicy is favored by 47%, followed by smoky and sweet. Forty-four percent like sauces/dips with internationally inspired flavors.
“Consumers have become burnt out on home cooking over the past two years and are increasingly exploring global flavors and ways to spice up their go-to dishes, while still maintaining convenience and ease in the kitchen, which dips, sauces and condiments can provide,” said Christopher Koetke, corporate executive chef, Ajinomoto Health and Nutrition North America Inc., Itasca, Ill.
Authenticity is the name of the game with internationally inspired condiments, said Daniel Espinoza, corporate research and development chef, OFI, Chicago. He said he believes it’s important to explain why certain specific flavorful ingredients are used in recipes.
“Respecting and protecting ingredient provenance is important,” Mr. Espinoza said. “We work with growers and supply chain partners around the globe, which provides opportunities for innovation and customization from plant to plate. Our single estate black pepper is a great example of the value this adds.”
With this seasoning range, producers may trace their pepper ingredient back to its exact plant block of origin. Tracing makes it possible to select specific pepper varieties and ensure consistent quality from batch to batch.
“Looking beyond South America, region-specific flavors from Asia and the Caribbean are also having their moment,” Mr. Espinoza said. “Korean barbecue marinades featuring sesame oil, crushed red pepper, ginger, garlic and black pepper have been popular during this year’s cook-out season. And Jamaican Jerk seasoned chicken wings are starting to appear on restaurant menus.”
Mr. Espinoza expects to see more rich, earthy flavors, such as garlic, mushrooms, truffle, cinnamon and roasted nuts, over the next several months. He also expects cross-cultural flavor combinations to dominate the savory food market.
“Take classic Asian and Mexican flavors,” Mr. Espinoza said. “In both food traditions, spices like cloves, nutmeg, ginger, chili, black pepper, cinnamon, star anise and cumin are everywhere, making a mashup between the two cuisines both logical and exciting.”
Jen Lyons, marketing manager, Sensient Flavors & Extracts, Hoffman Estates, added, “We will continue to see fusions of different ethnic cuisines, like Mexican-Korean and Thai-Italian.”
Flavored mayonnaise and aioli have taken off the past few years, as have dairy-based condiments. At the same time, plant-based and vegan varieties of the products started being introduced.
“It’s a way to incorporate new flavors in a simple way,” Mr. Kukuruzovic said. “We’ve been tasked with a variety of global flavor developments within this space, and we’re certainly not anticipating a slowdown as consumers desire more eclectic flavor combinations and experiences.”
United Natural Foods Inc., Providence, RI, is introducing specialty organic aiolis and burger spreads under its Woodstock brand. The sriracha aioli features a creamy garlic base with sriracha flavor, while citrus meets savory in the lemon dill aioli. The burger sauce is a tangy alternative to ketchup.
Kim Cornelius, senior food scientist at Wixon, said, “Dairy dip projects I have been involved with include crossover flavors from trendy items such as Nashville hot chicken, pepperoni pizza, cheesy quesadilla and fried pickle. Other interesting concepts include hot honey, spicy giardiniera, elote and shawarma.”
As consumer demand for plant-based dairy alternatives grows, the industry is responding with technology aimed at naturally replicating the richness of dairy without the use of dairy products or edible oils. Recently, T. Hasegawa USA, Cerritos, Calif., introduced a plant-based milk colloid emulsion to the North American market.
“This advanced fat mimetic technology simulates the creaminess and rich mouthfeel of traditional whole milk or cream in a wide range of products, including condiments,” said Doug Resh, director, commercial marketing.
In addition to texture issues, plant-based condiments may have off notes that include astringent, beany and bitter. To assist, Ajinomoto soon will introduce Plant Answer M, an ingredient system for plant-based mayonnaise and creamy dressings.
“The comprehensive solution includes realistic egg yolk flavor, umami, kokumi, thickening and emulsifying ingredients,” Mr. Koetke said. “It can also be used to make vegan honey mustard, vegan ranch and vegan sour cream and onion dip.”
Plant-based condiments may add flavor to plant-based main courses. Sensient research showed two-thirds of US consumers would consume more plant-based products if there was a greater variety of flavors.
Spicy with less heat
Dips and sauces are a good way to experiment with spicy flavors, according to 46% of consumers surveyed by Mintel, with 23% of consumers stating their tolerance for spicy foods has risen in the past year.
“Hot and spicy is still trending, but brands are now offering more mild options to appeal to consumers who don’t want extreme heat,” said Rachael Jarzembowski, marketing manager at Wixon. “Chilies can offer more than just heat. They can offer layers of flavor and add complexity, resulting in a more dynamic flavor experience.”
Ms. Adrian said, “The demand is for milder chili varietals like ancho and guajillo, which offer more complex layering of flavors. They are bold and spicy, but with subtle berry or raisin notes and earthy undertones.”
Authenticity and provenance play into sourcing chili peppers. The chili peppers OFI sources from Oaxaca, Mexico, for example, are said to capture the authentic flavors of regional Mexican dishes like Oaxaca mole, Yucatan marinade and carne asada.
The flavor dynamic of hot and spicy now has much more regional influence,” Mr. Kukuruzovic said.
Chilies vary in capsicum levels, which determines the amount of heat, and flavor profiles. When they are harvested and how they are processed also influences sensory attributes.
“Salsa roja, a classic spicy Mexican sauce, is a good example,” Mr. Espinoza said. “It’s made with jitomates (red tomatoes), onion, garlic, and of course, chilies. The preparation method should dictate the chosen chili variety.”
The sauce may be prepared three ways. Cocida is when the ingredients are stewed and ground into a smooth sauce. Asada swaps stewing for roasting. Cruda is raw, with the ingredients simply chopped and ground without cooking.
“A dried casabel chili is perfect for salsa roja cocida, where a long cooking time will help draw out its smoky, nutty flavor,” Mr. Espinoza said. “More acidic varieties, like de arbol or guajillo chilies, are for salsa cruda.”
Mr. Resh added, “The rise of sriracha opened the door for other international sauces focused on high-heat flavors, especially those from Asian countries, with Korea leading the way. Gochujang, for example, is a thick fermented red pepper paste that has a sweet and spicy kick. Future flavors with directional growth from Korea include ganjang, jeotgal and makgeolli, which could lead to exciting new possibilities in dips, dressings and marinades.”
Umami and kokumi, which some refer to as the fifth and sixth basic tastes, joining bitter, salty, sour and sweet, are becoming mainstays in condiments as consumer preferences shift in efforts to reduce sodium and sugar intake. More condiments are using monosodium glutamate and other sources of umami and kokumi, such as fish sauce, miso, truffles and even Parmesan cheese.
T. Hasegawa recently introduced Boostract, a system for adding or enhancing kokumi in foods. The system allows for a reduction in the characterizing umami ingredient, and that translates into a cost savings. When used in an alfredo sauce, for example, a 20% reduction in Parmesan cheese is possible.
Jennifer Zhou, senior director of product marketing – North America, ADM, Chicago, said, “Our research finds that 8 out of 10 consumers are intentionally avoiding or reducing sugar in their diets, and of those consumers, 75% are taking action to limit sugars in sauces and dressings. As a result, many sauces and dressings have shifted away from having a sweet flavor profile in favor of more spicy and savory tastes.”
ADM offers a honey extender to enhance the flavor of honey while reducing sugar content. Honey has the added benefit of being a close-to-nature ingredient that consumers recognize.
“We’re seeing a growing preference for fresh and green vegetable flavors, whether that’s an herby green goddess-type dressing on pasta salad, spicy salsa verde enchiladas or fries dipped in a cucumber and finger lime aioli,” Ms. Zhou said. “Tropical flavors are also gaining traction, bringing an island feel to sauces infused with passionfruit, grilled pineapple and coconut, or a cilantro and yuzu vinaigrette dressing.”
Fermented and sour flavors with a regional focus are gaining traction, said Ms. Zhou. Examples include condiments such as Korean kimchi, Japanese pickled ginger, Persian black limes and Italian preserved lemons.
“An up-and-coming flavor is flamed orange, inspired by Patagonian open-flame cooking style,” Ms. Zhou said. “Fire caramelizes the orange’s internal juices and sugars to create a complex, smoky sweetness. The juice and pulp can make a distinct chimichurri sauce or a flavorful simple syrup.”
Botanicals, too, are catching on. Vegetable and floral combinations provide a fresh take on flavors, such as a sauce of vibrant chartreuse-colored peppers with basil and elderflower, or a better-for-you dressing with an avocado and yogurt base layered with mint and dill, Ms. Zhou said.