Complementing Spicy Flavors With Sweet Ones

Sweet-heat flavor combinations are popular at restaurants, and now in grocery aisles.

“According to Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report, 45 percent of consumers overall (and 58 percent of consumers age 35 to 44) find sweet and spicy flavor combinations appealing,” says Lizzy Freier, Managing Editor of Menu Analysis at Chicago-based Technomic, Inc.1

“Mango, honey and maple syrup are common examples of sweet flavors that can be combined with spicy notes from chilies to create that sweet-heat flavor combination,” says Freier.2 “So mango salsas have been common, as well as condiments featuring honey and maple infusions with chili peppers,” adds Freier.3

Another flavor combination that has recently gained popularity is chocolate and cayenne, which is shining in beverages and desserts where chocolate is a common ingredient, notes Freier.4

“This is great for beverages and desserts, as chocolate is a typical flavor found in those meal parts and cayenne gives a nice kick that pairs well with the chocolate flavor,” says Freier.5

Unconventional combinations, such as Sriracha and salted caramel, are experiencing a swell in prominence.6 Sea salt may be a fitting partner in such pairings.

Cargill® Sea Salt Extra Coarse Topping and Purified Sea Salt Fine are both frequently used in baked goods and spice mix applications, respectively.7

Sweet heat combinations are becoming more popular, as illustrated by the sales of sweet and spicy products having increased 26 percent, reports Jordan Rost, Vice President of Consumer Insights at Nielsen, based in the greater New York City area.8

The growth of sweet and spicy products is faster than the growth of spicy flavors by themselves, notes Rost.9

In particular, growth in dollar sales is seen in spicy sweet chili products (up 18 percent), sweet and spicy black bean products (up 18 percent) and sweet and spicy jalapeno products (up 16 percent), according to Rost.10

“As our population has become more diverse, Americans have become exposed to new flavors, tastes and cuisines, and the American pallet has fundamentally shifted,” Rost says. “As a result, Americans are opening their eyes and their mouths to everything from chili mocha coffee to ‘spicy + sweet’ yogurts.”11

Starbucks® Chile Mocha combines sea salt with ancho and cayenne pepper powders, cinnamon, paprika and sugar to create a garnish for the whip cream which sits atop their mocha mixture of espresso, steamed milk, cocoa and cinnamon.12

“According to a recent Harris Poll study, one in three Americans consume foods that contain multicultural flavors at least once a week,” reports Rost.13

Mintel reports that, “nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of US consumers are interested in Latin American foods, while 64 percent are interested in Asian-inspired foods.”14 Food Business News reports that according to Kelly Weikel, Senior Consumer Research Manager at Technomic, Inc., “With the emergence of more ethnic cuisines, people are really looking for more complex depth of flavor that you get from pairing one or more types of flavor or two similar flavors.”15

“The high level of US consumer interest in emerging Asian cuisines suggests that there are ample opportunities to develop prepared meals products that cater to consumers’ curiosity and food exploration,” says Patricia Johnson, Global Food and Drink Analyst for Chicago-based Mintel in the Product Innovation report.16 Johnson encourages, “Manufacturers should look to foodservice for emerging Asian cuisine development inspiration.”17

Consumers’ curiosity and acceptance of international cuisines may enliven them to experiment more with new flavor combinations. Manufacturers can look at this as an opportunity to turn up the sweet and spice from menus to grocery aisles.

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[1] Freier, Lizzy. Email interview. 28 Sept 2016.

[2] Freier, Lizzy.

[3] Freier, Lizzy.

[4] Freier, Lizzy.

[5] Freier, Lizzy.

[6] Watrous, Monica. “Mastering the art of flavor matchmaking.” 3 Apr 2014. Accessed on 9 Nov 2016. Retrieved from{72C95AB2-3A4F-4849-A993-0ED60121842F}&cck=1

[7] Cargill Corporate. “Cargill® Sea Salts.” Cargill, Incorporated. Accessed on 4 Oct 2016. Retrieved from

[8] Mosher, Gillian. Email interview. 4 October 2016.

[9] Mosher, Gillian.

[10] Mosher, Gillian.

[11] Mosher, Gillian.

[12] Freier, Lizzy.

[13] Mosher, Gillian.

[14] Mintel.

[15] Food Business News.

[16] Mintel.

[17] Mintel.