Sweet-heat 'medleys' migrate

by Jeff Gelski
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Flavor combinations such as chocolate and chipotle move into drinks, desserts and sauces.

Chocolate and chipotle, honey and wasabi, and other sweet-heat combinations are migrating into various food and beverage categories. The flavor pairings, some originating in Central America, are enticing North American consumers, especially millennials and baby boomers.

“In the United States, the increasing level of interest in hot and spicy will keep spreading into every food category, including drinks, with chipotle, jalapeño and the incumbent habanero,” said Garth Vdoviak, product development manager for Mizkan Americas, Inc., Mt. Prospect, Ill. “The sweetness mitigates the intense heat while driving more consumption by creating a craving for more.”

He referred to the practice as “sweet-meets-heat medleys.” Honey and wasabi, and habanero with maple are two flavor pairing examples. Currently, sweet-heat pairings are flavoring snack chips, confections and sauces, Mr. Vdoviak said.

“Look for flavors to move beyond sriracha for the next generation of sweet-spicy sauces and condiments,” Mr. Vdoviak said. “Chefs and big restaurant chains are experimenting with piquant honey: habanero honey, jalapeño honey and ghost chili honey, ginger citrus honey. It’s going on in everything from chicken and waffles to whipped butter, salad dressings and into sauces.”

Recent new product launches include honey sriracha chicken bites, which are frozen food items from Crazy Cuizine, Santa Fe Springs, Calif., and Hidden Valley sweet chili ranch dressing.

“Sweet and heat work well in a variety of applications, but I see the flavor profile appearing more in desserts and beverages,” said Judson McLester, executive chef and ingredient sales manager at McIlhenny Co., Avery Island, La. “The savory qualities of heat might start showing up more in traditionally sweet desserts and cocktails.”

Mr. Vdoviak said millennials and baby boomers are demanding sweet-heat combinations.

“The 18-35 age group (millennials) loves the allure of a new flavor and has grown up with a large variety of flavors while the boomer crowd likes the exhilaration of new, exotic flavor combinations,” he said.

Research from the National Restaurant Association, Washington, revealed 64% of consumers consider themselves more adventurous in their food choices when dining out today than they were two years ago. For millennials, the percentage is 77%.

“Individuals in this age group are often well-versed in social media and enjoy sharing food adventures within their social network,” said Jean Shieh, marketing manager, Sensient Natural Ingredients, Turlock, Calif. “Unique flavor combinations such as sweet and heat flavor pairings offer millennials bragging rights. In addition, millennials and baby boomers are consumers who have the income and the interest for sophisticated food. Sweet and heat flavor pairings offer these two age groups a more complex dining experience.”

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