Searching for the next sriracha

by Jeff Gelski
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Sriracha blazed across the food industry last year, bringing a specific heat flavor to such items as deli sandwiches, potato chips and even candy canes. Grain-based foods companies may want to try the flavor in their products, or they may want to blend other hot flavors, perhaps combining sweet and heat, to find a trend for 2014 — the next sriracha.

Expect consumers to seek new heat options this year.

“The bar has been raised as today’s consumers are open to innovative possibilities and excited to try new things,” said Agneta Weisz, vice-president of flavors and technology for Comax Flavors, Melville, N.Y. “They are looking for bolder flavors, many with interesting ethnic and spice influences. Adding a hint of heat to ordinary products (i.e. jalapeño-flavored crackers) is a surefire way to cater to these customers.”

Bold flavor fusion in pretzels, corn chips and crackers might make sense, according to the report “Salty Snacks in the U.S.” released Nov. 20, 2013, by Packaged Facts, a market research company in Rockville, Md.

“It is no longer enough for salty snacks marketers to roll out products with a single flavor, no matter how robust or exotic,” the report said. “Dedicated snackers are seeking out surprises in the form of unexpected combinations of flavors.”

Sriracha’s big, bold year

Snack maker Frito-Lay boosted consumer awareness of sriracha early in 2013 with its “Do Us A Flavor” contest. After receiving 3.8 million consumer-generated flavor submissions for a new potato chip flavor, Frito-Lay named sriracha as a finalist, along with chicken and waffles and cheesy garlic bread. Sriracha flavored potato chips appeared on store shelves in 2013 from Feb. 12 to May 4. Cheesy garlic bread eventually won the competition.

In October 2013, Subway launched its “Fiery Footlong” collection, which featured chicken melt and steak melt sandwiches drizzled with sriracha sauce. The sriracha trend continued in 2014 at the Winter Fancy Food Show Jan. 19-21 in San Francisco. Sriracha, a Thai chili sauce, was named one of the top five trends as it appeared in snacks, chocolates and jams.

Sriracha’s exposure on television food shows has increased its popularity, said Joe D’Auria, senior food technologist for Spicetec Flavors & Seasonings, a business of ConAgra Foods, Inc.

“The mass audiences some of these shows draw can make one flavor profile explode in a short period of time,” he said. “In addition, Asian cuisine continues to grow and is becoming more mainstream, bringing sriracha to the forefront. It’s a known table side condiment on any Asian-inspired restaurant you go to. I think the appeal of sriracha will continue into 2014.”

Jill McKeague, market development manager for Kalsec, Inc., Kalamazoo, Mich., said, “Sriracha appeals to the consumers’ increased interest in complex flavors. With fermented chilies and garlic, it offers a greater depth of flavor than the typical hot sauce. This flavor profile would fit nicely into the hot and spicy flavors currently trending in the snack category. For instance, a sriracha cracker would be very interesting.”

Sriracha also might work in multigrain bases, said AnnMarie Kraszewski, a food scientist for Wixon, Inc., St. Francis, Wis.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of requests for sriracha in just about anything,” she said.

Ms. Weisz added, “Sriracha is increasing in popularity and, from all trend indications, will continue to do so. It is incorporated into mainstream condiments, syrups and sauces to add a spicy bite, as well as items like vodka and chocolate and recently showed up in candy canes. Grain-based foods are certainly an exciting option for adding sriracha flavor.”

Different forms of heat

More evidence of the popularity of sriracha and other heat flavors came in the McCormick Flavor Forecast 2014.

“Everywhere we looked, people have a growing fascination with the delicious range of flavors and heat chili peppers deliver,” said Kevan Vetter, executive chef for McCormick & Co., Inc., Sparks, Md. “In the U.S., cooks are embracing new varieties like aji amarillo from Peru, which is prized for its sizzling heat and surprisingly full-bodied, fruity notes.”

Comax Flavors included “Some Like It Hot” as one of four 2014 flavor trends along with “Fresh Focused,” “Sultry Sweets” and “Reasons to Cheer.”

According to Comax Flavors, the “Some Like It Hot” trend represents a pairing of ethnic and cultural flavors that may appear in such applications as savory chips, sweets, confections, dips, sauces, beers and beverages. Flavor pairings may include sriracha chocolate, black pepper caramel, honey wasabi and habanero maple.

Ms. Kraszewski said consumers want flavor along with heat. A combination of sweet and heat may include honey chipotle. Spicy curry with a little sweetness behind the heat might work as a flavor in multigrain pita bread, she said. For another combination, ancho chili peppers might be a little sweeter than guajillo, which provides background heat.

Heat flavors may differ by when they become apparent in the taste cycle, Mr. D’Auria said.

“In most cases you may want to introduce the heat at a later stage of the taste cycle as opposed to very early,” he said. “If you taste a Buffalo ranch snack for instance, you would want to get the ranch dairy notes before you start getting the spicy buffalo notes.”

The heat characteristics of flavors vary, too. Formulators may use only a little ghost pepper, also known as Bhut Jolokia, to make an impact, Ms. Kraszewski said.

“They kind of blow everything out of the water,” she said of ghost peppers. “Adventurous people may want to give them a try.”

The Scoville organoleptic test measures the heat of chili peppers as expressed in Scoville Heat Units, according to New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M. Ghost peppers have 1,001,304 Scoville Heat Units, which compares to other peppers such as pimento (100 to 500), ancho (2,500 to 3,000), chipotle (10,000) and habanero (200,000 to 300,000).

“Heat flavors differ in their intensity and flavor impact,” Ms. Weisz said. “Sometimes products have just a hint of heat to gently stir the palate while others pack a powerful punch that instantly hits the tongue. Either way, the main appeal to heat and spicy flavors is that it invigorates traditional foods and transforms it to the next level of flavor.”

Kalsec HeatSync heat indexes are measurement tools that follow the use of more than 30 different peppers. The U.S. index collaborates with market data from Mintel’s Menu Insights and the Global New Products Database to evaluate more than 2,400 restaurant food and drink menus. Jalapeño and cayenne peppers were popular in the first half of 2013.

The E.U. index measures retail product introductions in Europe, where sweet chili, piquillo and cayenne peppers have been popular.

Heat flavors may differ by the type of heat experienced, the complexity of the heat and the heat expression itself, Ms. McKeague said. Heat may be experienced as a sensation indicative of a capsicum heat or as the numbing effect of Szechuan pepper.

“Heat flavors are now being layered to add a level of complexity to the product,” she said. “This could include roasted and dried peppers or addition of other ‘hot’ foods such as horseradish and mustard. Finally, the heat itself may be expressed in various forms such as a quick, sharp sensation or a warm, lingering heat.”

Trends going forward

For trends in 2014, Ms. McKeague said either Gochuchang, a Korean condiment with spicy, umami flavor, or harissa, a chili paste used often in North Africa, might prove to be as popular as sriracha.

“Complex and ethnic flavors will continue to gain popularity in 2014,” she said. “Some of the fastest growing hot flavors include habanero, Thai chili, harissa and sweet chili sauce. Ethnic flavors such as za’atar seasoning, Peri Peri and Gochuchang are also making their way to the mainstream.”

Ms. Weisz pointed to wasabi, a plant grown in Japan and sometimes called the Japanese horseradish, as a possible “next sriracha” in 2014.

“Heat flavors will continue to take center stage in 2014,” she said. “Consumers can keep an eye out for more pepper varietals, such as the notoriously hot ghost pepper. Wasabi will also be on the rise in 2014 and will most likely be what sriracha was in 2013.”

Mr. D’Auria said fermented flavors are becoming more popular and gave the example of kimchi, a Korean side dish he described as spicy. Ancho, guajillo, ghost peppers, pasilla and Aleppo are other trending hot flavors, he said.

Sriracha innovation is not over either.

“A new twist on 2014 sriracha is mint sriracha,” Mr. D’Auria said.

McCormick’s top 5 flavors and trends

McCormick & Co., Sparks, Md., provided its top five trends and top five flavors in its McCormick Flavor Forecast 2014.

5 Top trends

Chilies obsession: Consumers seek the next big chili thrill.

Modern masala: Indian food breaks free of its traditional confines with modern interpretations.

Clever compact cooking: Cooks in urban kitchens make the most of what’s available.

Mexican world tour: People around the globe discover new aspects of this bright, casual cuisine.

Charmed by Brazil: Brazilian cuisine has a seductive mix of global and native influences.

5 Top flavors

Aji amarillo: A hot Peruvian yellow chili with bold, fruity flavor.

Kashmiri masala: A blend of spices from northern India featuring cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves and ginger.

Tea: The natural ingredient is making its way into rubs, broths and marinades.

Chamoy sauce: A Mexican condiment made from apricot, lime, chilies and spices.

Cassava flour: Also known as manioc or tapioca flour, this gluten-free alternative is a Brazilian staple.

Sweet speculation on speculoos

A spicy cookie flavor from Europe might hit the sweet spot in grain-based desserts this year, as might certain flavor pairings.

“Speculoos is a type of spiced short-crust biscuit that originated in northern Europe,” said Agneta Weisz, vice-president of flavors and technology for Comax Flavors, Melville, N.Y. “It is made with a variety of delicious spices, including ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and white pepper, which, when combined with its other ingredients of white flour, brown sugar and butter, makes for a mouth-watering cookie. It has become very popular in the U.S. due to its sweet taste and unexpected bite. This spicy cookie flavor is a natural for grain-based foods applications.”

An article on speculoos appeared in the May 8, 2013, issue of the Chicago Tribune.

“Traditionally baked around the holidays for St. Nicholas Day, speculoos cookies have been popular in Belgium, The Netherlands and France for centuries,” the article said. “Named ‘speculoos’ in Flemish from the Latin word for ‘spice,’ the cookies are subtly sweet, tasting predominantly of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, pepper and nutmeg.”

Complex flavors are trending in desserts, said Jill McKeague, market development manager for Kalsec, Inc., Kalamazoo, Mich.

“Fusion between sweet and salty, such as salted caramel, continues to remain on trend,” she said. “Pairing of sweet and hot flavors — think chocolate and chipotle or ancho — is currently trending as well. Finally, lime is expected to become a more prevalent flavor in desserts.”

Ms. Weisz added she is seeing a flavor pairing trend in desserts.

“Coconut lime, ginger sesame caramel, honey flavor combinations, and peanut butter and anything are just some of the couplings that are bringing desserts to a new level of flavor,” she said.

Scoville heat units of chili peppers

Naga Viper pepper 1,359,000

Bhut Jolokia (ghost pepper) 1,001,304

Habanero (red savana) 200,000 to 300,000

Chitepin, pequin 50,000 to 100,000

Cayenne 30,000 to 50,000

Serrano 10,000 to 23,000

Chipotle 10,000

Banana or cherry jalapeño 3,500 to 4,500

Anaheim, ancho or poblano 2,500 to 3,000

Pimento, peperoncini 100 to 500

Source: New Mexico State University

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