All types of peppers remain popular, though regional chilis enable marketers to differentiate products.

Opposites attract

With the sweet-heat trend, it’s not just sweet, as in sugar. Rather, sauces are being formulated to have flavorful sweetness.

“This trend has been around for quite some time, but we’re seeing it combine in a more global way,” Lane says. “We’re now seeing Mexican chilis combined with agave, Indian chilis with maple syrup and Middle Eastern flavors with honey.”

Toasted coconut is what Geo Phelps, owner, Chili Rocks, Cincinnati, uses in his CoCo Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce. The sweetness of the coconut helps lessen the heat of habanero and ghost chilis.

All types of peppers remain popular in sauces, though regional chilis, often those that are hard to find in the mainstream supermarket, enable marketers to differentiate products beyond the hot sauce condiment.

“Aji panca from Peru, cascabel from Mexico, urfa chili from Turkey, and even the perennial Hatch green chili from New Mexico – all of these have really gained momentum this past year,” Lane says. “Each of these chilis has a unique flavor profile. Typically adding a creamy or cheesy note works well to temper their heat and allow their flavor to be appreciated. Sometimes adding a sweet note helps balance flavor, too.”

“Many of these peppers impart actual flavor rather than just heat,” adds Scott Walnofer, senior director of culinary, Kerry, Beloit, Wisconsin. “Guajillo chili has dark berry notes while the aji pepper has a sweet flavor profile somewhere between a cooked mango and an apricot.”

Jerry McDonald, vice president of culinary, MiDAS Foods International, Oak Park, Michigan, says, “People are demanding specific chilis by name and also moving beyond the simple pairing of sweet and heat. There is great demand for depth of flavors, paired with the heat. 

“Fermented, pickled and cured flavors can provide depth to the heat,” he says. “Bright flavors, too, pair well with heat. This includes citrus, Earl Grey tea, sakura, cilantro, ginger and coriander.”

Rethinking the classics

Mature condiments with established recipes are being revisited, according to Sprinkle of Packaged Facts, with innovative sauce manufacturers offering twists on the classics. For instance, many mayonnaise brands now offer wasabi, chipotle, pesto, garlic, horseradish and ginger flavors, among others.

“Ketchup varieties include chipotle, ghost pepper, sriracha and sun-dried tomato,” Sprinkle says. “Mustard might feature garlic, bleu cheese, oregano, or, of all things, ‘everything bagel’ flavors.”

For instance, Fine Foods of America, Kansas City, Missouri, offers a dozen varieties of Fine Vines Artisanal Ketchup. To stand out, the ketchups come in 9-oz. glass jars rather than plastic bottles. They are meant to be used as a topping, like traditional ketchup, but can also be much more. Varieties include alderwood, black truffle, smoked Serrano and Thai ginger.

This past summer, Adam Woolven, head chef at Island Grill, a sustainable restaurant in Lancaster, London, encouraged diners to reach beyond the ketchup for a condiment with a little more kick. That would be one of his many homemade chutneys and jams.

One of his favorites is a tangy tomato and chili jam. The jam gets its unique flavor from fish sauce, which contributes a hearty umami taste. It is balanced by the addition of a dark brown demerara sugar. The mixture is then given an addition of red wine vinegar. The layers of flavors come from the chili peppers, garlic cloves and fresh ginger that are cooked with the vine-ripe plum tomatoes.

“Consumers, especially younger consumers, are driving innovation on menus and on grocery shelves,” says Lindsey Oostema, senior marketing specialist, Synergy Flavors, Wauconda, Illinois. “They want authenticity and nostalgic flavors but with a modern and upscale twist. For example, ranch dressing is a staple but a manufacturer could make a premium, all-natural refrigerated version top-noted with a cucumber essence for an upscale, refreshing spin.”