Q&A on hot and spicy flavor trends

by Donna Berry
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With sriracha mainstream, culinary professionals are exploring new flavorful ingredients to turn up the heat in meat and poultry. They are looking for global and regional recipes to layer in familiar flavors with bold spices. To better understand the trends driving innovation and how these trends can be turned into flavorful foods, MEAT+POULTRY spoke with members of the innovation team at Kerry, Beloit, Wisconsin. This includes Danny Bruns, director of culinary innovation; John Kauffman, director of meat systems, flavors and coatings; Megan McGough, senior research and development scientist for meat; Jacquelyn Schuh, market research specialist for meat; and Michelle Wetzel, research development and applications director for meat.

MEAT+POULTRY: What’s driving innovation in hot and spicy flavors?

Jacquelyn Schuh, Kerry
Jacquelyn Schuh, market research specialist for meat
Jacquelyn Schuh: As flavor tourism continues to build, consumers have ever expanding options available at home due to globalization. At Kerry, we have seen a growing interest in the use of peppers and are excited about two specific cuisines making a lot of noise in the hot and spicy meat world. These are Middle Eastern and Peruvian meat dishes. These cuisines are making use of regional peppers to excite today’s consumers.

M+P: Do consumers understand that’s there are peppers beyond chipotle and jalapeno?

Schuh: Most of America has tried all the “mainstream” peppers so they’re interested in ways to branch out. Interest in peppers and chile varieties has exploded in recent years with more consumers than ever tracking their personal spice level – whether huge on spice or not – on the Scoville scale. So yes, Americans accept and actively welcome a love affair with heat That’s where we come in. We assist formulators with branching out beyond the peppers confined to our US borders. Peppers are worldly and regional, and Millennials, Gen Z and others alike are willing to try new varieties for the daring, adventurous factor and social capital they build to brag to their friends. Consumers are gravitating towards trying different varietals on menus, tailoring spice to their liking and for no reason other than to find their next “sriracha.”

M+P: Do heat and meat make sense?

Megan McGough, Kerry
Megan McGough, senior research and development scientist for meat
Megan McGough: You bet they do. When product formulators clean up labels through reduction of fat, sugar and sodium, there is an impact on the taste of the final product. In order to replace the taste and palatability lost when these changes are made, many are turning to heat and spice to bring flavor back. Consumers’ growing interest and demand for authentic taste experiences and ethnic flavors are perfectly aligned with the use of these spicy and new pepper flavors.

Schuh: According to a 2016 Mintel study, when it comes to trying new international cuisine, consumers are most interested in trying that cuisine’s meat-based dishes, followed by appetizers and side dishes. This bodes well for why the peppers and heat associated with authentic Middle Eastern and Peruvian meat dishes are on the rise on menus and retail products. For example, Halal Guys, a New York-based quick-service chain serves a mix of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare and is well known for their combo platter and hot sauce. Their hot sauce has made even the daredevil of heat cry out in pain. Their platters are typically finished with a heavy dose of their infamous white sauce and a small amount (it’s really hot) of their red sauce. The red sauce is nothing to joke about with a Scoville rating of 100,000 to 130,000 units. The ingredient deck states the reason for the heat in the red sauce is simply ground red pepper; although there must be some secret to that heat level. Whether the recipe is under wraps or truly is just a ground red pepper to heat the famous combo platters, Halal Guys has helped spread awareness and respect throughout America, putting Middle Eastern/Mediterranean cuisines on the map when it comes to heat.

M+P: What are some of the best ways to provide heat and spice to meat and poultry?

John Kauffman, Kerry
John Kauffman, director of meat systems, flavors and coatings
John Kauffman: At Kerry, our analytical and sensory capabilities work hand in hand with our research and development teams to formulate products with the right spice impact depending on the desired final flavor and application. The ingredients utilized vary depending on whether you are looking for more of an up-front heat or one that lingers on the palate. We like to use ingredients with higher Scoville units as that enables us to decrease the delivery amount and reduce volatility of the spice the final product. When adding heat and spice to meat and poultry products it is important to assemble the product in layers, especially for coated and fried products where we add the most flavor in the marinade or pre-dust. When formulating, we use the motto “closest to the meat, furthest from the heat” as the heat from cooking or frying can easily destroy the flavors. Utilizing encapsulated flavors can help deliver heat and maintain consistency, while also reducing the impact of excessive browning or discoloration.

Michelle Wetzel, Kerry
Michelle Wetzel, research development and applications director for meat
Michelle Wetzel: High-acid, spicy profiles such as buffalo can often deliver too much acid, which can prematurely denature proteins. This denaturation effect in spicy products will also have a negative impact on sausage binding or coating adhesion. To overcome this, we use flavors and encapsulated ingredients to keep the acidic ingredients away from the meat. From a production standpoint, spicy seasonings can be difficult for processors to manufacture because these blends can be irritating. In order to prevent this, we use oil in the blends, dust collectors and personal protective equipment.

M+P: Any insight into what’s “hot” in peppers?

Danny Bruns, Kerry
Danny Bruns, director of culinary innovation
Danny Bruns: Smoke is hot. While not overtly spicy, smoke complements the hot and spicy trend and can illicit similar flavor experiences like those that attract and draw consumers to spicy foods. Kerry’s technical understanding and culinary expertise in smoke allows for us to build flavor complexity and authentic smoke flavor into the products that we make. At IFT, our team of chefs are demonstrating a southern fried chicken flatbread that showcased our smoke technology. The base of the concept is a honey and butter toasted high-protein flatbread that was fortified with our plant-based protein ingredient. We then topped the flatbread with fire-grilled corn, smoky “fried” pulled chicken thigh meat, compressed pickled watermelon, micro greens and garnished with crispy chicken skin. We were able to utilize our smoke and fried flavor solutions to deliver the color, flavor and mouthfeel of a deep fried chicken without actually frying the product.

Schuh: According to Datassential, the fastest-growing pepper on menus in the past four years is the Aleppo pepper. This pepper is named after Aleppo, Syria, and is used to spice Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. It is featured on a variety of menus in kebabs, chicken and seafood applications and in retail currently is used in tapenades, cheeses and other antipasto dishes. At the heart of many Peruvian dishes lies the aji amarillo pepper, which provides a yellow-orange color and a pop of flavor. Another growing Peruvian pepper is the rocoto pepper, which is from the Andes region of Peru and will be making waves here in America in both retail and foodservice applications shortly.

M+P: How does heat fit in with meat snacks?

Schuh: As we see meat snacks grow year-over-year, I think we’ll start to adventure out and try the meat snacks of our favorite exotic cuisines. Peruvian flavors today appeal most strongly to Gen X and Gen Z, according to Datassential. We believe Americans of all ages are interested in snacking on one of Peru’s meat snacks with a kick. There’s a popular beef meat snack called anticuchos, which is a spicy kebab dipped in a yellow chile sauce and is a snack eaten by all classes and generations at any part of the day. I’m looking forward to seeing a US meat processor mimic the flavor profile coming from these spicy anticuchos found on every street corner in Peru.

M+P: What are some innovative hot and spicy meats you’ve seen recently in the marketplace?

Schuh: Torst, a Danish bar in Brooklyn, serves a really simple yet innovative bar snack. It’s crispy fried chicken skins served side by side with pickles and a squeeze bottle of hot sauce. This fun appetizer fits nicely into sustainability trends, specifically towards eliminating food waste and making all parts of the animal shine; also known as the nose-to-tail movement. The bar snack utilizes a familiar part of the bird in this crunchy, savory and spicy snack that pairs perfectly with a beer. What does this mean for the future? Perhaps we might see crispy, fried chicken skin take off as a snack in retail the way we saw meat companies launching chicharrones this year.

Another innovation is ‘nduja, which is a spicy, spreadable pork salumi from Italy. According to Mintel, many new retail products introduced in the last year described as “spicy” were Calabrese-style salami or sausages. ‘Nduja has been something seen for a few years now in specialty stores and high-end tasting menus, but we are now seeing it used in new applications. Roberta’s in Brooklyn and many others are serving a ‘nduja vinaigrette. Monteverde in Chicago mixes ‘nduja sausage into risotto, which is used in their ‘nduja arancini. What does this mean for the future? The acceptance and increased usage of this spicy meat product leads me to believe that we will see more charcuterie board favorites make their way into enticing meat spreads and meat-based dips in both retail and foodservice. Think charcuterie board reimagined into spreads and dips as a spicy substitute for more traditional offerings.
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