Sweet heat combinations are driving some product development efforts.


KANSAS CITY — Giving consumers what they want will always be the goal. Therefore, when 30% of consumers indicate they are eating hotter foods than they did a year ago, and 25% are eating spicy foods more frequently than they did within that same time frame, research chefs should take note.

Manufacturers and chefs are realizing “hotter” and “spicier” are not sufficient for today’s more informed and often adventurous consumers. They are showing a desire for more depth and complexity in the ingredients and flavors used to add heat and spice to their meals.

Ingredient companies are responding to the trend. Kalsec Inc., Kalamazoo, Mich., has developed Fusionary Heat, a line of heat delivery products that combine such attributes as pungency with unexpected ingredient combinations to provide a unique sensory experience.

“Fusionary Heat creates a culinary dimension to heat expression through which Kalsec combines heat with such elements as savory, sour, sweet and tangy,” said Gary Augustine, executive director of market development for Kalsec. “Fusionary Heat products include tangy sweet ginger, spicy orange, herbal jalapeño and sweet-roasted chipotle.”

While capsicum continues to be one of Kalsec’s most popular heat sources, and while he sees the sriracha craze continuing, Mr. Augustine sees sweet heat as being a popular notion at this point.

“We’ve combined chocolate with smoked chipotle pepper for really interesting combos,” he said. “You can get sweet from various sources such as caramel.”

Mr. Augustine also finds the combination of lime and white pepper plus vanilla is a great frosting, while tangy, sweet ginger plus honey may work well in a BBQ sauce or a dressing.


Adding an edge to the familiar

Chefs may easily take a sweet product that is already in the marketplace — perhaps ketchup that features high-fructose corn syrup as its source of sweetness — and combine it with habanero, chipotle or other heat-related product to create something new.

Looking at the tangy heat combination, Kalsec sees a natural combination with citrus, such as lime, lemon or orange — plus they all work well with herbs.

“Citrus and heat, such as our spicy orange product, is a great combo,” Mr. Augustine said. “Mango plus habanero works well, too. These citrus combos are being used primarily in sauces or for a nice glaze for chicken, before or after grilling.”

He also sees BBQ sauces becoming more complex, boasting unique and interesting flavors in formulations. In addition, there’s chipotle with lime, orange and cardamom, and horseradish plus citrus. All have potential; especially since citrus is a popular component in Asian and Mediterranean cuisine.

There should be a sense of fun in combining new ingredients then tentatively tasting the end result. Nestor Ramirez, CRC, division chef for the Sensient Flavors & Fragrances Group of Sensient Technologies, Hoffman Estates, Ill., has succeeded in hanging on to that sense of fun. Case in point:

“I made a banana ice cream with our Thai Blend [i.e., Thai Arbol Chili Blend] — it was surprisingly good because the flavors in that blend complement the banana. You put things together because there’s a reason,” he said.

Citrus and heat work well in tandem.


Mr. Ramirez works within Sensient’s Natural Ingredients division, which is based in Turlock, Calif., and sources chili for customers throughout the world. He aims to assist them in using the ingredients.

“They’ll say, ‘We want the next habanero, the next chipotle,’” he said. “I say, ‘I don’t think there will be a next habanero or chipotle because that’s one dimensional.’ Now, they’re seeing there are flavor nuances in chilies just as in grapes for wine; they’re blended for different nuances.”

To his point, he cites the more fruity notes of ancho as well as the somewhat earthy notes of pasilla.

“Those chilies are pretty common, yet some people think they’re used individually,” he said. “Actually, you blend for more balance, more complexity. As chefs, we always like our food to be like music, that is, in harmony.”

On that flavorful note, he points to Mexican cuisine wherein primarily ancho and pasilla peppers are blended for a balanced sauce; in the Thai lexicon, kaffir lime, ginger, shallots and garlic will all meld.

“Thai red chili, a very small, pungent, very hot chili, is brought together with those other ingredients and it balances them out,” he said.


Moderating heat

Heatenol is a new heat delivery system Sensient introduced at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition earlier this year. Julie Clarkson, senior applications technologist for Sensient Flavors, said the system doesn’t have a specific flavor profile.

“It was developed to provide a delivery method for modulating the level of heat in a product,” she said. “It can be utilized in many different applications and works well in the beverage industry.”

At the I.F.T., the company showcased pineapple jalapeño water that used Heatenol; if one customer doesn’t want the beverage too hot, you add less Heatenol, Ms. Clarkson said.

Since some chilies are fruitier, some greener and some more floral, Sensient has developed flavors that represent the full flavor and not just the heat component of the chili.

One of the company’s 2014 flavors the company is promoting is Gochujang, a fermented chili paste from South Korea.

Ms. Clarkson said, “It’s really awesome combined with chocolate.”

At the I.F.T., a chocolate Gochujang black tea was exhibited.

“It’s very complex with fermented notes; it has the fruity chili notes as well as the heat component,” Ms. Clarkson said.

Although the original Gochujang product is a thick paste, Sensient has created a liquid format.

“You can put it into tea and the tea remains clear,” Ms. Clarkson said. “I used that same flavor to create a sweet and spicy Asian glaze.”


Adding layers of flavor

Then there’s the layering of hot and cold as in Sweet Fire Ice Cream, a trend that is gaining momentum.

“We also showcased this at 2014 I.F.T.,” Ms. Clarkson said. “It’s a molasses/pineapple/red pepper ice cream base that has jalapeño and red pepper variegate (in the swirl).”

Although he didn’t dub it Sweet Fire Ice Cream, Tom Miner recalls a similar creation. A longtime consulting principal for Technomic, the Chicago-based market research firm, he leads its concept and menu practice.

“One of the most interesting desserts I’ve ever done was a mango ice cream with a hint of cinnamon plus a blast of cayenne pepper,” he said. “It’s hot and it’s cold — and another example of layering I’ve found successful.”

As a consultant for the past two decades, a chef for a dozen years prior to that Mr. Miner’s perspective on the building and layering of heat is well-grounded. He is most enthusiastic about working with different pepper/sugar combos.

“The salivary glands in the back of the tongue start to work when hit with sugar; the combo allows you to have a hotter pepper experience as it’s balanced with sugar on the tongue,” Mr. Miner said. “Typically, a pickled jalapeño served in a Mexican restaurant is followed by a beer or just a sugar packet from the table. The pepper hit is on the front part of the tongue with sugar (and saliva) in the back side of the tongue, so that balance is playing in your mouth. You can have more depth of flavor and taste the ingredients that are playing with pepper.”

Though seemingly evident, it’s still worth mentioning that different types of peppers prepared different ways create different flavors, Mr. Miner said. Whether you smoke, grill, poach, sauté or pickle them, you’ll achieve a different profile. His personal preference is for grilling, then peeling them for a more complex, layered heat.

To achieve successful heat flavoring of savory items, maintaining a balance among salt, acid, sweet, aroma and multiple heat intensities is key.


Mr. Miner made several predictions for how heat may be used in the coming months.

“The success of chipotle (smoked) pepper will drive popularity of other smoked peppers — hundreds of types, all different flavors,” he said. “The popularity of pickling in Asian cuisine will drive the development of a lot of new items, including condiments for sandwiches, salads, meats/chicken. Chefs will adapt what they see in kimchee and pickles in Asian foods.

“The strongest development in the use of heat will be the continued application of different types of peppers as they’re used in Asian and Latin cuisine.”

Like other leaders in the heat delivery products sector, product developers with the McIlhenny Co. have been studying “the industry impact” of a handful of “trendy ingredients,” including Szechuan peppercorn; sriracha; harissa; Gochujang; Aleppo pepper; Za’atar; Hatch chili peppers; and Shishito peppers.

To achieve successful heat flavoring of savory items, Mr. McLester emphasized the importance of “maintaining a critical balance among salt, acid, sweet, aroma, multiple heat intensities, etc.”

In studying the blending and layering of heat in sweet items, Mr. McLester added that “this is where Thai cuisine knocks it out of the park.”

Could it be the industry is just now catching up to Tabasco’s “heat” perceptions and practices first introduced in 1868? Mr. McLester diplomatically pointed out, “To us, controlling every deliverable in regard to compound heat flavor is key to any successful formulation.”