To produce gochujang, red chile is fermented with rice and soybean creating a natural umami.

Ghost pepper or gochujang

While such sources of heat as Buffalo-style sauces and chipotle continue to be mainstream, naga jolokia or ghost pepper, seems to be one of those flavors that’s taking longer to catch on, according to Mr. McLester.

“Eventually, I think it will come around; sometimes these ‘trends’ go through the whole R&D process which could take up to 18 months or longer or maybe it’s not a ‘trend’ worth jumping on,” he said. “However, gochujang is everywhere; it’s part of the ‘fermented scene’ and I’m hearing more and more about it.”

As director of innovation for Cargill, Christopher Runkle, CRC, said he’s seeing a lot of interest in sriracha from many major food service chains.

Christopher Runkle, CRC of Cargill.

“We’re seeing a lot of Korean red chile paste that’s fermented with rice and/or soy bean, building flavor with umami,” he said. “The fermentation process builds the umami flavor characteristics in with the heat; even with sriracha, fermentation with chiles and garlic not only drives the heat but impacts flavor.”

To produce gochujang, red chile is fermented with rice and soybean creating a natural umami.

“They’ll toss cabbage in this gochujang and ferment it further,” Mr. Runkle said. “The heat driver for kimchee is gochujang.”

He recommends gochujang as a marinade for beef or pork alone or combined with soy sauce or honey plus lemon/lime juice to bring up the acidity.

Having grown up in Tampa, Mr. Runkle enjoyed the local fare at numerous Cuban cafes. He recalls a garlic dipping sauce and the intensity of heat generated from the little white bulb.

“When you crush or chop garlic, the heat from the sulfur components in garlic is released, enzyme activity drives the heat,” he said. “They typically use parsley or cilantro plus garlic with lemon juice; the heat is driven by the garlic. It’s a different way your tongue perceives this heat.”

What research scientists and chefs alike love to do with a sauce is to layer the heat.

For Mr. Runkle, that may mean creating a honey sriracha sauce with black pepper that may hit you up front so the sriracha heat lingers longer. This may be done with a number of chiles including black pepper, cayenne, red chile peppers, green jalapeño peppers, etc.

Nashville-style hot chicken, which Mr. Runkle sees as a regional trend that’s popular in a number of the area’s gastro pubs, takes its heat from cayenne mixed with lard that allows the cayenne to adhere to the chicken.

Mr. Runkle pegs pickled vegetables as a way to layer heat, as in Korean and Japanese cuisine using kimchee, which features fermented pickles and radishes.

“We’ve been playing around with pickling, then adding cider vinegar, sugar and crushed red pepper for a spicy bread and butter pickle,” he said. “Or you could combine rice wine vinegar and sugar plus gochujang to make a spicy Korean pickle.”

Lori Murphy, senior technical director of ingredients for Erlanger, Ky.-based Wild Flavors & Specialty Ingredients, an Archer Daniels Midland business unit, said everyone responds differently to pungency, chemicals and heat:

“Heat is first felt in the mouth, then the esophagus, then the stomach; this leads to sweating or cold chills, depending upon the heat that’s used.”

While capsaicin goes to the stomach and may produce sweating on the forehead or upper lip, mint, which is frequently used in beverages, generates a cooling sensation that may be perceived as a heat or spice because of the way it plays on your tongue—like the spicy-heat sensation in chewing gum—and the cooling sensation perceived in our nasal passages.

At the end of the day, beauty may be in the eyes of the beholder, but when it comes to defining and appreciating heat, it may really be in the nose, tongue, esophagus and even stomach of the taster. So don’t hesitate to layer it on.