Sweet fruits like mango pair well with many chilis and spices.
“Barbecue sauce demand showed healthy growth the past five years as consumers increasingly tried new flavors, especially spicier varieties,” Sprinkle says. “Price gains involved premiumization of barbecue sauce, as well as the development of organic products.”
Regionally produced barbecue sauces using local ingredients continue to be a bright spot in the condiment aisle. Sauces from the Carolinas skew tangy and spicy from the use of vinegar, cayenne, black pepper, crushed red pepper, hot sauce and yellow mustard. St. Louis barbecue, on the other hand, tends to be quite sweet with a bit of acid from a heavy tomato base. Kansas City barbecue uses a similar base but adds more layers of flavor with smoke and molasses. In the Southwest, Texans favor spice and heat, with a hint of sweetness.
Around the world, barbecue gets bolder. In Latin America it’s all about red chilis and cilantro, while in Korea, black and chili peppers combine with the Asian flavors of soy sauce, sesame and ginger. The Middle East tends to be more fragrant than spicy heat, relying on the flavors of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin and garlic.
Ssamjang sauce is a type of Korean barbecue sauce that is gaining popularity with the food truck trend. Its main ingredients are doenjang, a slow-fermented soybean paste with a rich umami taste, and gochujang, a red chili paste.
Sauce innovation is often about adding a new layer of flavor or swapping flavors.
“Zhug is likely to become the next hot sauce, as regional Middle Eastern foods are on a rapid rise,” McDonald says. “Cold and creamy dressing-style sauces complement zhug, as they offset the heat.”
“I often add some mushroom powder to sauces because it gives a savory umami flavor without being something many people can put their finger on,” says Aspen Burkhardt, a regional account manager at LifeSpice.
Za’atar gives Pomodoro an unexpected twist, according to Christopher Warsow, manager of culinary applications, Bell Flavors and Fragrances, Northbrook, Illinois. The sesame adds richness while the thyme gives it a pungent herbaceous note.
“We’ve created a ranch dressing spiked with Japanese togarashi,” Warsow says. “The citrus notes add depth to the ranch, while the dairy balances the heat.”
Warsow’s Eastern European heritage drives him to use bay leaves to add non-characterizing background notes to rich sauces. He also likes to use thyme to enhance the “warmness.”