When bringing the heat, food and beverage formulators may liken themselves to baseball pitchers, focusing on delivery and location. For delivery, when consumers taste a product, heat may arrive sooner or later and at different levels. For location, instead of a specific place in the strike zone, formulators may choose peppers and spice blends from specific geographic areas, including shichimi togarashi from Japan, fatali peppers from Africa and aji chilies from Peru.

Peppers give formulators an ever-increasing repertoire to choose from in achieving heat of Nolan Ryan proportions.

“Peppers have a wide variety of flavors and heat levels,” said Jill McKeague, market development manager for Kalsec, Inc., Kalamazoo, Mich. “As consumer interest in both ethnic foods and hot and spicy flavors continues to grow, lesser-known peppers are moving into the mainstream. For instance, ancho has a more mild heat and raisin-like flavor note. Guajillo, which has a heat level on the milder side of a jalapeño, has more of a smoky heat with some berry notes.”

Ninety-four per cent of consumers indicated they eat hot and spicy food at dinner while 2 out of 5 consumers eat hot and spicy food at breakfast, according to a survey of 1,455 U.S. consumers by Kalsec. The survey found preference for hot and spicy foods in a variety of applications, including snacks, meals, sauces, desserts and beverages, Ms. McKeague said.

The McCormick Flavor Forecast 2015, conducted by McCormick & Co., Hunt Valley, Md., listed Japanese 7 Spice (shichimi togarashi) as a global taste on the rise. The Japanese condiment combines dried togarashi peppers with spices and herbs, including peppercorns, sesame seeds and orange peel, said Barbara Zatto, sales manager west and director of culinary for Mizkan Americas, Inc., Mount Prospect, Ill. The combination results in a flavor that is spicy, nutty, and sour and tingly to the taste, she said.

“Japanese cuisine is getting more spicy and more pungent with the recent reintroduction of shichimi togarashi,” Ms. Zatto said.

She added two other Asian flavors, sriracha and gochujang, are trending upwards and should continue as ingredients in strong sauces for proteins and vegetarian entrees.

“Since 2013, sriracha has reigned as the ‘new ketchup,’ showing up in everything from breakfast sandwiches to mayonnaises,” she said. “Gochujang follows close behind as an ingredient and a sauce in Korean cuisine. Gochujang’s success is partly due to the rise of Korean food in mainstream cuisine fueled by the food truck scene.

“Gochujang also meets the complex flavor requirements of authenticity for its cuisine. The thick red sauce is hot, sweet and pungent from fermented soybeans. These flavors can blend in a variety of pairings, including proteins, marinades, condiments and sambals (a kind of sauce).”

Kalsec offers extracts of Szechuan peppers from China to inject heat into such applications as snacks, sauces, meat and even oral care items, Ms. McKeague said.

“Szechuan peppers offer a very unique heat expression,” she said. “Instead of the intense burn that is commonly associated with hot peppers, Szechuan peppers have more of a tingling effect on the palate. This creates a very different sensory experience for the consumer. Based on the desired type of heat, Kalsec can offer Szechuan pepper extract alone or in combination with our other heat management products.”

Moving south of the equator, ancient traders from Asia as well as Europe influenced food tastes in North Africa, said Jessica Jones-Dille, associate director, marketing and business development for Wild Flavors & Specialty Ingredients, now a part of Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago.

“The food is spicy, using saffron, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and ginger, which provide some heat,” she said.

Ms. Zatto said harissa, a blend of garlic, chilies, cumin and olive oil, is popular in Morocco. Harissa may be used as an ingredient in recipes and as a staple condiment.

“Supporting flavors that balance the heat of the harissa include essentials in Moroccan cuisines: blood oranges and lemon (for acidity), red onions (for bite), distilled flower waters (for a hint of floral) and dates and nuts for sweetness,” she said.

Grown in central and southern Africa, the fatali pepper has a heat close to that of a habanero.

“Fatalis are fruity and citrusy with an intense heat that follows,” Ms. Zatto said. “Several chilies were brought from Africa and were the basis for Creole and Cajun cuisine. Some varieties evolved into the Charleston hot peppers that are used today in Southern cooking.”

Peruvian hotspot

Lima, Peru, ranks as a culinary hotspot in South America, Ms. Zatto said. Peru features food influenced by Incan and Spanish cultures with additions from African, Japanese, Chinese and European settlers.

“South American chefs are using chilies and spices selectively to create a pungent, full-flavored, bold and unique and complex flavor profile that promotes a more interesting cuisine,” Ms. Zatto said. “Chefs can use chilies alone to create instant heat on the tongue or pair chilies with others that bring out heat slowly.”

In Peru, the family of aji chilies ranks as a favorite, Ms. Jones-Dille said.

“They are orange and yellow and have a mild pungency,” she said. “They are mainly added to provide flavor in savory application.

“Heat, peppers and the influence of chilies have become extremely popular in North America. In 2014 the ghost pepper was a big hit.”

Global fusion fire

North American food and beverage formulators thus may draw upon heat flavors from Asia, Africa and the Americas as application options. Fusing flavors together also may lead to a blazing strike in new product development.

“Asian and Latin cuisines have many synergies, and they share several crossover ingredients and dishes in the two cuisines,” Ms. Zatto said. “For example, both cuisines combine chilies for heat and juxtaposing of other flavors. Both use tamarind and coconut for sweet and savory applications, and coriander and cilantro leaves cross the border interchangeably, providing the same flavor highlights in Mexican and Southeast Asian cuisines.”

Fusion flavor trends proliferate through food trucks, Ms. Jones-Dille said.

“You can find trucks that combine heat and spices from all over the world,” she said. “Anything goes, and the consumer is excited to experience Indian foods merged with Mexican, Thai merged with Peruvian, and other exotic combinations.”

Wild Flavors gained new capabilities for heat flavor sourcing last year when ADM completed its acquisition of Wild Flavors GmbH.

“The new Wild Flavors & Specialty Ingredients business unit, with its large global footprint, will provide access to new cultures and flavor experiences and the ability to source new ingredients,” Ms. Jones-Dille said. “Technical and operational capabilities for flavor will be added to some of the ADM facilities in these new areas of the world, enhancing the reach of the Wild overall portfolio.”

Kalsec invested in heat flavors last year, too. The company developed Fusionary heat, a line of products that combine heat (pungency) and ingredient combinations.

“The vision behind Fusionary heat products was to respond to the shift in consumer preference from a straight heat profile to more complex flavor profiles,” Ms. McKeague said. “These products have an added culinary dimension to heat expression, which results in non-traditional pairings of heat plus savory, sour, sweet or tangy.”

Fusionary heat combines different ingredients in unique ways, she said.

“This could include taking a pepper from South America and combining it with a flavor more strongly associated with Southeast Asian cuisine such as lemongrass or ginger, or finding a refreshing citrus note from the Mediterranean region and uniting it with Szechuan from China,” she said.