Shortbread with chocolate and strawberries
Tabasco could add a kick to tres leches cake.

Heating up snacks

The complexity and heartiness of grain-based snacks work well with bold chili peppers as well as fruit notes, Ms. Santy said.

“Popular combinations are chili lime, mango habanero, and (they) are extending to more unique profiles like tangerine gochujang,” she said.

Mr. Rasmussen said cranberry plus cayenne granola or black pepper spiked candied nuts and fruit bars seem to go over well.

“Something that is not just sweet-heat but also sweet-salty, with a non-overpowering heat and a fruity sweetness,” he said.

Tabasco brand sauce may be splashed on cream cheese spread over a Triscuit, Mr. McLester said.

“The appeal is the three-dimensional, complex taste provided by the combination of the sweet, slightly sour cream and the bright, spicy acid of Tabasco,” he said.

McIlhenny Co. also promotes corn bread recipes featuring Tabasco.

“One of our favorite corn bread recipes involves making Tabasco butter,” he said. “The butter amplifies the Tabasco flavor and elevates the richness. Add a little in the sweet corn batter, bake them up, and then drizzle some more on top.”

Mr. Rasmussen said bread that may have sweet-heat profiles include cayenne peanut butter banana bread, candied jalapeño cheddar cornbread and ginger black pepper pumpkin chai bread.

Wixon has not seen as many requests for sweet-heat flavor combinations in bread, Ms. Santy said.

“Hot and sweet seems to be a greater trend in spreads for bread such as flavored butters, honeys, jams or jellies rather than within the bread itself,” she said.

Targeting all ages

Millennials have become a prime target for product development ideas, including sweet-heat treats, but formulators may consider other age groups as well.

“Sweet-heat appeals to millennials but also to a broader range of U.S. adults because it allows the consumer to experience the unique flavor profiles of spice (think fruity habanero, citrus Aleppo) while balancing it out with a familiar sweetness than tames the heat level,” Mr. Rasmussen said. “Consumers are driven to try these new flavor combinations and use spicy ingredients in what are traditionally sweet only foods as a form of being adventurous or creating excitement in their lives.”

Younger consumers are more willing to take flavor risks, said Roger Lane, marketing manager, savory, for Sensient Flavors – North America and based in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

“Millennials are always on the forefront of flavor trends, and they’ve definitely picked up on the combination of sweet and heat,” he said. “Hispanic and Asian consumers are also more willing to look at products that include heat, as many of the traditional cuisines in each culture include that element. It’s not a stretch to think that they’d enthusiastically enjoy the sweet and heat combination.”

Mr. McLester added, “It’s thought that as you got older, you lost taste buds, and thus, an older demographic was believed to be more apt to consider complex heat and spice combinations. The reality is however that there are no such boundaries. From children to ethnic groups, there is a place for flavor pairings that provide heat. The key, as always, is in the skill of the application and balance to provide a truly three-dimensional and involved taste experience.”