Product developers are looking abroad for new flavor concepts and varieties.

Building on his beginnings in Naples, Italy, watching and helping his grandfather make gelato using fruits and nuts as ingredients, Angelo Quercia, owner of Angelo Gelato Italiano, Franklin Park, Ill., continues to use those same ingredients but today combines them with modern-day flavorful twists. Melding the familiar with the unexpected, that’s his contemporary approach to flavoring gelato. It is also a technique employed by a growing number of dairy product formulators in an effort to liven a dairy base to appeal to today’s consumers’ adventurous palate.

“I can create any flavor that the customer desires,” said Mr. Quercia, whose chocolate bacon gelato is among his leading sellers. “Most importantly, our customers appreciate that we offer exclusive proprietary flavors for any retail store or restaurant that wants something that is truly their own.”

An approach the company took this summer was to add a savory twist to sweet gelato flavors. Recent offerings include avocado with lime zest, sweet peach with fennel, and sweet summer corn with salt and pepper.

Offering such unique flavors is what many consumers desire. As the United States becomes more diverse, dairy product formulators are wise to venture beyond the nation’s borders for inspiration.

Gone are the days of dining on simply “Chinese” or “Mexican.” Today’s consumers want specialty cuisines from remote regions of the world, places they aspire to visit. They are touring the world one meal at a time through more adventurous cuisine choices, with Asia and Latin America the most common destinations, and Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East becoming increasingly popular, according to research from Chicago-based Mintel.

Cheeses featuring spicy flavors are popping up on shelves everywhere.

Chilies present an opportunity for all types of flavor innovation, as they are associated with the most popular international influences in today’s food industry. They also complement the milky, creamy dairy base, as they balance and mellow delivery of heat while allowing the flavor of chilies to be tasted. This is something not possible in other food applications, where the upfront heat is so intense it overpowers the flavors of the chilies, which may range from earthy to fruity to smoky.

Grown around the world, chilies are often combined with spices exclusive to regional cuisines. The flavor systems may be used in dips, dressings, cheeses and the growing category of cooking and sautéing butters.

“With one in four people throughout the world eating chili peppers a day, we see a growing captivation with the range of flavors and heat that chili peppers deliver,” said Kelli Heinz, director of marketing and industry affairs, Bell Flavors and Fragrances, Northbrook, Ill. “In the U.S., we see many embracing exciting new varieties, such as the aji amarillo from Peru, which has more fruity notes, or the guajillo from Mexico, which has more sweet and smoky notes.”

The company recently launched a line of sweet to fiery-hot pepper flavors to spice up any taste profile.

Chili peppers range in heat levels. The guajillo and aji panca have the least amount of heat on the Scoville scale, while the Bhut Jolokia, also known as the ghost pepper, is recognized as the hottest pepper in the world.

But it’s more than heat that adventurous consumers are looking for, said Gary Augustine, executive director-market development, Kalsec, Kalamazoo, Mich. “Consumers are moving away from just straight-heat flavor to more complex flavor profiles, where some flavors are subtle while others are characterizing. You get this in many ethnic cuisines, where chilies are blended with fresh herbs and spices indigenous to the region.”

In response to consumer demand for more specialized heat, Kalsec is growing its specialty pepper product line with new varieties, including cayenne, pasilla and ghost pepper extract. These join ancho, guajillo, habanero, jalapeño and Szechuan.

According to an on-line survey of 1,300 U.S. adults conducted by Kalsec this past January, 56% of consumers eat spicy foods at least once a week, with one out of four eating spicy foods more often than a year ago.

“We learned that two out of five consumers think foods taste better with some level of heat, with two-thirds of survey respondents preferring a medium or higher heat level in foods,” Mr. Augustine said. “And although jalapeño remains the preferred chili, it is closely followed by cayenne and chipotle. Habanero, poblano, serrano and ancho are all growing in popularity.”

In addition to specialty peppers, Kalsec offers a range of heat-management ingredients that enable heat to be added to foods without the addition of the actual chili. Such heat pairs nicely with sweet, in particular in dairy products. For example, in a cream cheese bagel spread, try spiced habanero or sweet roasted chipotle.

Chicago-based Bel Brands is adding a flavorful twist to its pimento cheese spread with the introduction of Price's Southern Style Pimento Cheese Spread..

“Horseradish citrus is great in a chip dip while a smooth lime heat makes a great swirl in vanilla ice cream,” Mr. Augustine said. “We can control for pungency intensity and time of pungency, as well as the heat sensation and where it takes place on the tongue.”

Sensient Natural Ingredients, Turlock, Calif., has added Indian varietals to its chili collection. The collection includes Devanur chili, a medium heat, reddish-brown chili with an earthy-nutty note; Byadgi chili, a mild heat chili, with a bright red color and a pungent, but sweet flavor profile; and Teja chili, a hot and deep red chili with a biting flavor that gives way to an underlying sweet/fruity profile. With three different heat, color and flavor profiles, these offerings help processors deliver bold Indian flavors to products such as dips, spreads and cheese.

“Today’s consumers not only want to experiment with flavor, they want to know exactly where their food comes from,” said Ryan Goularte, general manager. “These chili peppers are grown in India using careful seed selection specific to regional cuisines, which offers our customers an authentic solution for the development of genuine Indian foods.”

Other dry chili blends in the company’s collection gain inspiration from other far-away locations. For example, the Moroccan Harissa blend is based on the cuisine of North Africa. It delivers deep, intense heat courtesy of arbol, ancho and guajillo chiles.

There are also blends with an American twist, such as spicy buffalo, which replicates the distinct buttery flavor of the traditional wing sauce, and pickled jalapeño, which recreates the flavor of vinegary, tangy pepper rings found on snacks from nachos to pizza to sandwiches.

Thanks to many of the chilies, mainstream dairy-case dips are no longer simply French onion or ranch. For example, Ventura Foods, Brea, Calif., manufactures Dean’s brand sour cream-based dips. The company ventured out beyond the traditional flavors with two new spicy options — Buffalo ranch and sriracha spicy Thai chili — that are bound to appeal to the millennial consumer.

Chicago-based Bel Brands is adding a flavorful twist to its best-selling pimento cheese spread with the introduction of Price’s Southern Style Pimento Cheese Spread. The original and southern-style lines both use cheddar and cream cheeses, with the new line including mayonnaise for some added tang. The southern-style spread comes in two varieties: regular and spicy jalapeño.

Boar's Head Brand, Sarasota, Fla., has introduced a line of adult-focused meat and cheese snacks, including cheese snack combination pouches of 3 pepper Colby Jack and chipotle Gouda cheese.

Pretty Perfect, Loxley, Ala., livens up cheddar spreads with chilies, as well as other ingredients with a kick. The line comes in three varieties: jalapeño and pimento, Pancetta and horseradish, and sundried tomato and lemon zest.

Boulder, Colo.-based Blue Moose of Boulder recently introduced Ciolo spicy feta dip, which is a Mediterranean-inspired feta dip that blends fresh tomatoes, creamy feta, garlic and roasted red peppers with just a touch of heat. Although spicy feta is referred to as a dip, consumers may find it to be much more versatile. It may be used for topping appetizers, salads and small plates, as well as finishing fish or adding some creamy flavor to a sandwich or wrap.

To make entertaining easier and more flavorful, Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo, Inc. heats up the convenience aisle with new Tostitos Dip-Etizers. The convenient appetizer cheese dip goes from pantry to microwave to table in a resealable bowl in minutes. The Mexican style four cheese variety combines Monterey Jack, sharp cheddar, asadero, and queso quesadilla cheeses with chopped tomatoes, mild peppers and onions.

Boar’s Head Brand, Sarasota, Fla., has introduced a line of adult-focused meat and cheese snacks, including cheese snack combination pouches of 3 pepper Colby Jack and chipotle Gouda cheeses.