Spicy peppers, sweet fruits and chocolate are teaming up to bring new flavor combinations to grain-based desserts. Ideas are flowing for chocolate lava cake in particular. Other sweet-heat pairings are possible in snacks and bread. Experimental flavor formulators may find adventurous consumers willing to try their latest creation, be it a Tabasco chocolate chip cookie or candied jalapeño cheddar cornbread.

“With desserts, heat is used to add an element of surprise on top of the sweet flavor profiles,” said Renee Santy, food scientist, consumer products for Wixon, Inc., St. Francis, Wis. “We’re seeing requests for Mexican hot chocolate cookies, spicy molten lava cakes, pumpkin spice or chai spice.”

Bell Flavors & Fragrances, Northbrook, Ill., this year launched a line of flavors from Southeast Asia that have a variety of tastes such as hot, spicy, tangy and sweet. Some of the flavors may fit well in sweet-heat, grain-based desserts.

“Many of the current trends in sweet-heat desserts focus on utilizing chili peppers as their source of heat,” said Aaron Rasmussen, corporate chef for Bell Flavors & Fragrances. “Some examples are cayenne dark chocolate brownies, Tabasco bourbon caramels or Mexican chocolate lava cake, which gets its sweet, complex heat from the use of ancho and guajillo peppers with a touch of cinnamon. The smoky sweet profile of chipotle complements the deep cocoa notes of chocolate as well.”

He said another trend involves other heat-causing ingredients such as ginger, peppercorns (black, pink, green and Szechuan), wasabi/horseradish, or more complex heat like curries.

Tabasco, found on many restaurant tables, is another way to add heat to desserts.

“Tabasco brand original red sauce has the inherent ability to elevate the overall flavor profile of all food, and it works particularly well in grain-based desserts,” said Judson McLester, executive chef/ ingredient sales manager for McIlhenny Co./Tabasco brand, Avery Island, La. “For example, adding Tabasco brand original red sauce to a traditional chocolate lava cake provides more depth to that chocolate and keeps that flavor on the palate longer, improving the mouthfeel simultaneously.”

Demand for baked sweet foods from pizza purveyors may continue to grow in 2016, Mr. McLester added.

“This is where a sweet-heat flavored dessert like a Tabasco dark chocolate brownie, Tabasco chocolate chip cookies or even Tabasco sweet cinnamon pizza rolls would be an instant success,” he said.

Kalsec, Kalamazoo, Mich., offers Szechuan pepper extracts, which commonly are used in Asian cuisine and also may fit into sweet-heat treats.

“It really depends on the effect you are trying to achieve,” said Gary Augustine, executive director, market development for Kalsec. “It works really well in combination with peppermint to provide a heat followed by a cooling effect. It also pairs well with citrus such as orange. Szechuan is most known for its ability to provide a numbing and tingling sensation.”

He added cinnamon and ginger may contribute heat, and that popular dessert combinations include apple cinnamon, pumpkin spice and honey ginger.

Some peppers may bring too much heat. For example, the Scoville heat units for habanero chili range from 100,000 to 350,000, said Nestor Ramirez, division chef of Sensient Natural Ingredients and based in Turlock, Calif. Sensient Natural Ingredients blends habanero with paprika to bring the heat level down to 80,000, which gives heat and flavor without burning the tongue, he said.

“Habanero has been used in many marinade and meat rub recipes, but even with its high potency, habanero can be used in many other applications,” Mr. Ramirez said. “I recently made a caramel habanero sweet sauce to go with a rich vanilla bean ice cream, and at less than 0.5% usage level, the heat provided depth to the sweet caramel and triggered that hot and cold sensations at the same time. The same sweet-heat combination can certainly apply to grain-based snacks.

“Heat tends to build and stabilize after a few hours with it in the dish, and it will definitely build during consumption. So finding the balance point between heat and pleasurable eating is important.”

Heating up snacks

The complexity and heartiness of grain-based snacks work well with bold chili peppers as well as fruit notes, Ms. Santy said.

“Popular combinations are chili lime, mango habanero, and (they) are extending to more unique profiles like tangerine gochujang,” she said.

Mr. Rasmussen said cranberry plus cayenne granola or black pepper spiked candied nuts and fruit bars seem to go over well.

“Something that is not just sweet-heat but also sweet-salty, with a non-overpowering heat and a fruity sweetness,” he said.

Tabasco brand sauce may be splashed on cream cheese spread over a Triscuit, Mr. McLester said.

“The appeal is the three-dimensional, complex taste provided by the combination of the sweet, slightly sour cream and the bright, spicy acid of Tabasco,” he said.

McIlhenny Co. also promotes corn bread recipes featuring Tabasco.

“One of our favorite corn bread recipes involves making Tabasco butter,” he said. “The butter amplifies the Tabasco flavor and elevates the richness. Add a little in the sweet corn batter, bake them up, and then drizzle some more on top.”

Mr. Rasmussen said bread that may have sweet-heat profiles include cayenne peanut butter banana bread, candied jalapeño cheddar cornbread and ginger black pepper pumpkin chai bread.

Wixon has not seen as many requests for sweet-heat flavor combinations in bread, Ms. Santy said.

“Hot and sweet seems to be a greater trend in spreads for bread such as flavored butters, honeys, jams or jellies rather than within the bread itself,” she said.

Targeting all ages

Millennials have become a prime target for product development ideas, including sweet-heat treats, but formulators may consider other age groups as well.

“Sweet-heat appeals to millennials but also to a broader range of U.S. adults because it allows the consumer to experience the unique flavor profiles of spice (think fruity habanero, citrus Aleppo) while balancing it out with a familiar sweetness than tames the heat level,” Mr. Rasmussen said. “Consumers are driven to try these new flavor combinations and use spicy ingredients in what are traditionally sweet only foods as a form of being adventurous or creating excitement in their lives.”

Younger consumers are more willing to take flavor risks, said Roger Lane, marketing manager, savory, for Sensient Flavors – North America and based in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

“Millennials are always on the forefront of flavor trends, and they’ve definitely picked up on the combination of sweet and heat,” he said. “Hispanic and Asian consumers are also more willing to look at products that include heat, as many of the traditional cuisines in each culture include that element. It’s not a stretch to think that they’d enthusiastically enjoy the sweet and heat combination.”

Mr. McLester added, “It’s thought that as you got older, you lost taste buds, and thus, an older demographic was believed to be more apt to consider complex heat and spice combinations. The reality is however that there are no such boundaries. From children to ethnic groups, there is a place for flavor pairings that provide heat. The key, as always, is in the skill of the application and balance to provide a truly three-dimensional and involved taste experience.”