The tipping point for American’s love of sweet combined with spicy came five years ago, when McDonald’s McNugget sauces were expanded to include a Sweet Chili variety, says Bret Thorn, Senior Food and Beverage Editor at Nation’s Restaurant News. That moment marked the first time that mainstream cuisine caught up to what would eventually become one of today’s major food trends. Thorn says a number of factors led to this popular flavor profile. “First, we were beginning to enter an economic recovery, and whenever that happens, people’s palates are more adventurous,” Thorn says. In addition, there was a significant growth in the size of an audience receptive to this distinctive taste combination. “About 20 percent of Americans used to report a love of spicy food,” Thorn says. “Now, depending on whom you ask, at least more than half of us who like spiciness to some degree.”
New, but familiar
Spice is just half of this flavor combo, but its “better half” is an ingredient Americans can’t get enough of: sugar. “Americans have a sweet tooth, and if you add sugar to any food, we tend to like it better,” Thorn says. Another factor is sweet and spicy’s connection to one of the country’s favorite condiments: barbeque sauce. “Texas and Kansas City-style barbeque sauce is always sweet, and always a little bit—or a lot—spicy.”
Cocktails: Margaritas lend themselves well to a sweet and spicy combination. “You might rub a little chili powder on the rim, or infuse the alcohol with jalapeño peppers,” Thorn says. “The capsaicin in the peppers is alcohol soluble.”
Entrées: Barbeque is a classic, of course, and very popular not only in summer, but year round. Consider a bolder, zingier sauce version for your more adventurous customers.
Dessert: “Chocolate and chili are a delicious combination,” Thorn says. “The spiciness of chili can actually cause a little pain, but the sweetness of the chocolate balances it nicely.”
Marzetti® is on-trend to bring on the spicy with our new line of sauces, including Bulgogi and Sriracha Bourbon. They make it easy to add flavor, but not labor. For operators who would like to get this irresistible combo onto their menus, Thorn has some recommendations: “Keep in mind that each of these flavors on their own are appealing to many diners. The combination of the two makes them even more powerful for sales.”