Pouring dressing
Chefs share their favorite go-to ingredients and techniques for creating flavorful, on-trend dressings, marinades and sauces.

CHICAGO — What’s the next sriracha? Named after the city of Si Racha in Thailand, the condiment, with its profile of heat and a touch of sweet, has changed the way consumers view and use hot sauce. It has also sparked the race for innovation in the pourable food topping category — dressings, marinades and sauces — and has product developers turning to a new set of ingredients for innovative recipe and formulation ideas.

The third dimension

“It is not enough to be spicy hot. Be three dimensional,” said Judson McLester, executive chef and ingredient sales manager, McIlhenny Co., Avery Island, La. “For example, think chamoy, which I prepare by combining smoky ancho chiles with apricot preserves, lime juice and salt.

“My favorite marinade is one for skirt steak, where I combine lime juice, olive oil, cilantro, garlic, salt and Tabasco chipotle sauce. The brightness of the lime juice keeps the cilantro and garlic tasting fresh, while the Tabasco chipotle instills a smooth, smoky note with a mild heat.”

Bacon-wrapped rotisserie skewers served with white barbecue sauce
Bacon-wrapped rotisserie skewers served with white barbecue sauce.
McIlhenny Co.

Smoky, as well as earthy flavors, are increasingly making their way into the condiment aisle. This includes paprika blends, white peppercorn and toasted coriander seed, according to Rob Jensen, founder of Jensen’s Kitchen LLC, Syosset, N.Y.

Most culinologists have their favorite flavor ingredients. Some will always work a little soy sauce into a recipe, while others swear by cracked peppercorn. For Guy Meikle, corporate chef, Mizkan America Inc., Mount Prospect, Ill., that would be garlic confit.

“Garlic confit adds body, sweetness, richness and roasted notes, successfully rounding out almost any dish, sauce, cream, vinaigrette or dressing,” he said.

Garlic confit
Garlic confit adds body, sweetness, richness and roasted notes, according to Mr. Meikle.

Sweet heat evolves

Mark Emery, product development chef, Gordon Food Service, Wyoming, Mich., believes there’s still a lot of opportunity to be creative with sriracha, particularly in sweeter profiles.

“Sriracha will see continued use as a flavor ingredient, but might take a back seat in naming conventions with other complementary ingredients,” he said. “Incorporate flavorful heat, which can come through fermented chiles, as well as smoky or fruity peppers. Sweet flavors that mingle well with heat include honey and molasses. Vinegar and citrus are also very complementary.”

Mr. Meikle agreed sriracha is evolving and is the driver of sweet with heat combinations. He believes the most craveable condiments achieve a harmonious balance of saltiness, acidity and sweetness. 

Ghost pepper, lemon and honey
One of Mr. Meikle's favorite sweet-heat flavor fusions is ghost pepper, lemon and honey vinaigrette.

“The sweet-heat trend replicates what sriracha does, but adds a dimension of flavor, taking the palate on a wild ride,” he said. “A favorite sweet-heat flavor fusion is ghost pepper, lemon and honey vinaigrette. The sensory adventure begins with the bright acidity of the lemon, then transitions into a light burn with cranberry notes from the ghost pepper and finishes with the grassy, floral sweetness of the honey.”

Ghost peppers are recognized as one of the hottest naturally occurring, non-hybrid peppers known to man. They are up to eight times as hot as habaneros.

Ghost peppers make sense in condiments, where other vibrant ingredients can round out the overall flavor profile, according to Jeffrey Cousminer, research development manager, Stonewall Kitchen, York, Maine. This is exemplified in the company’s recently launched ghost pepper salsa, where tomatoes add sweetness and mellow the heat.

Ghost pepper salsa, Stonewall Kitchen
Stonewall Kitchen recently launched ghost pepper salsa.

“We are also working a lot with miso, the traditional Japanese fermented soybean paste,” Mr. Cousminer said. “Miso works well in savory sauces and dressings because it provides umami along with its own unique flavor profile.”

The consensus is sophisticated heat and sweet combinations are driving innovation.

“Green serrano chile and mango make a great dressing,” said Jean Shieh, marketing manager, Sensient Natural Ingredients, Turlock, Calif. “The fruity notes and medium heat of the serrano chile pepper smoothly integrate with the sweetness of mango. Another favorite is ancho chile teriyaki as a marinade, which delivers smoky notes with chocolate undertones.”

Texas Pete fiery sweet sauce
Texas Pete Fiery Sweet Sauce combines spicy cayenne pepper flavor with sweet molasses.

Another example comes from TW Garner Food Co., Winston-Salem, N.C. Texas Pete Fiery Sweet Sauce combines spicy cayenne pepper flavor with sweet molasses.

“The flavor is so versatile that you can use it either as an ingredient or as a condiment, especially on an Asian dish,” said Ann Garner Riddle, chief executive officer. “There’s a great deal of interest in flavors from the Mediterranean and Middle East. Many of them are quite hot, but the combination of ingredients elicits a complex flavor.”