Momofuku's ssäm sauce features gochujang as a source of heat.

Layering and fusion

If creating marinades and sauces was only about heat and how hot and spicy a product may be made, Garth Vdoviak would probably have lost his enthusiasm for what he does now. Having sold his own sauce and marinade company, World Harbors, in 2000, he is now immersed in product ideation and flavor development as product development manager for Mizkan Americas Inc., which is based in Mt. Prospect, Ill.

Layering flavors, fusion and an explosion of ethnic styles are various elements of food science that get his creative juices flowing and heat is a key driver.

“When you talk about ‘heat,’ most people think pepper and chile,” he said. “In addition, there are black peppercorns, white, pink (a fruit), ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, horseradish, wasabi, mustard powder, Worcestershire, garlic and onions.”

Reveling in the similarities of sauce ingredients found in various ethnic cuisines, such as the use of lime juice and garlic in both Mexican and Thai sauces, Mr. Vdoviak is proud of a sriracha marinade he recently formulated.

“There’s the umami of soy sauce; the heat of the garlic; plus pepper, ginger, a very little bit of 5 Spice, lime juice, as well as toasted sesame oil; that brought sriracha to a different level.”

Now he is working on identifying the next trending spice blend or compound.

Mr. Vdoviak sees harissa showing up on a lot of menus as a sauce, a paste or a rub. Often it is without caraway but some varieties are smoked with paprika. Given its role in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and African cuisine, it’s a multi-ethnic favorite.

“I think gochujang is ready for the retail marketplace,” he said. “Made from red chiles, glutinous rice and fermented soy beans, I definitely think it can debut as a sauce. Americans are looking for a flavor adventure. Before, everything was in degrees of heat which tends to overshadow other flavors such as the acid from tomatoes, etc.”

On balance, if it’s just hot, it makes your face numb, “and your receptors are going wild, but it’s of no value if you can’t taste anything,” Mr. Vdoviak said.

Heat is trending, according to Jud McLester, corporate executive chef and ingredients sales manager for McIlhenny Co., owner of Tabasco brand products. And the trend is not only among the 18-to-35 year old demographic; older adults who may be losing some of their taste buds, as well as those who are aiming to reduce consumption of sodium and fat by using spicy sauces to compensate, are also interested.

Getting straight to the point, Mr. McLester said heat is a product of peppers — at least for the most part and depending upon the flavor profile of heat of the dish that determines which pepper a consumer would choose.

“For a Thai dish, for example, you’re probably going to use a hotter pepper; since capsaicin raises the body temperature, people in hot climates would find it makes them feel more in tune with the climate so [relatively] they don’t feel so hot,” he said.

If you’re using a chipotle, the heat will be less.

As noted earlier, Tabasco has introduced its own sriracha sauce — a blend of peppers and garlic that’s thicker than the Huy Fong Foods original for which there’s no trademark.

“We [at Tabasco] use more red peppers to make it thicker,” Mr. McLester said. “Ours is a blend of red peppers plus Tabasco sauce, which itself is a fermented product and therefore brings some umami-like characteristics. In addition, it’s a flavor enhancer, so the heat from the red peppers plus Tabasco lifts and brightens.”