Recall a favorite meal you had recently...whether it was a pasta dish, chicken, or even macaroni and cheese, chances are that the sauce made it memorable.

“Sauces are the source of flavor—that is what makes consumers like or dislike a product,” says Lucien Vendome, senior executive chef, Kraft Food Ingredients, Memphis, Tenn. “The more components you add into a sauce, the more appetizing it is; however, balancing ingredients can get complicated in manufacturing conditions.”

Successfully blending flavorful ingredients into a sauce base involves factors such as the order of addition, marrying or blending flavors together, using texturizing agents and processing conditions.

In this article, a chef, an applications specialist, a stabilizer expert and a sauce manufacturer help us to understand the criteria for formulating “signature sauces.”

Going for the Gold

The first step in successfully developing a sauce in a manufacturing environment involves creating a gold standard.

“When you develop a gold standard, everyone understands the key components—it's easier to work toward your end goal,” says Vendome.

Standard sauces, whether prepared by one chef or a culinary team, are typically created from stocks and fresh herbs for flavor, and may be thickened by blending in a roux, a mixture of flour and butter.

As a formula is scaled-up and is required to meet processing and shelf life requirements, food formulators can use flavoring agents and bases that contain desirable notes such as meat juices, roasted flavors, and mirepoix—a vegetable blend of carrots, onions, and celery. While sautéeing mushrooms may take some time and a great deal of raw material, simply adding commercial flavors make the formulator's job easier.

“One of the key elements in creating a signature sauce is using ingredients that taste like they have been cooking and blending together for a long time through a particular cooking method,” says Vendome. A cooking technique ties ingredients together. Adding ingredients in stages and cooking them with a specific technique, gives them a flavor profile that is built in a vertical instead of horizontal fashion, he adds.

Happily, the flavors derived from cooking techniques such as roasting, sautéeing, stir-frying or grilling, no longer take time to prepare.

One Sauce Cooking

Hank Van Joslin, founder and president of HVJ International, champions the concept of “one sauce cooking.” While Van Joslin has numerous signature sauces, many were formulated to go with a variety of dishes—salads, vegetables, fish, meat, or potatoes, for example.

“One sauce cooking' is a big theme for us because we all can get caught in the trap of using steak sauce only for steak, for example,” says Van Joslin.

In the New World condiments line, the newest products under the Joslin label include: Creamy Cilantro, Creamy Raspberry, Tangy Mango, Creamy Avocado, Strawberry Chipotle, and a seafood sauce with bell pepper, tomato and papaya.

The Creamy Raspberry is a blend of mayonnaise, raspberries, vinegar, garlic, jalapeno peppers and xanthan gum. The sauce has no added sugar and goes well in sweet or savory applications.

The Tangy Mango contains mango puree and chipotle peppers. The latest product, Creamy Habanero, has a creamy base with a hint of habanero and mandarin orange.

The Creamy Cilantro is a mayonnaise-based sauce with fresh cilantro, vinegar, garlic, jalapeno peppers and xanthan gum. The flavor profile of this “meat, poultry, fish, salad and tater topper” has fresh cilantro notes with a little pungency from the peppers.

Creamy Cilantro contains fresh cilantro because no other format of the spice—such as frozen or dehydrated—would do, says Van Joslin. Availability and seasonality are considerations when using fresh ingredients.

Taking familiar ingredients and reblending them into different sauces is Van Joslin's specialty. “Horseradish is an old flavor profile, but take a hint of horseradish with a tomato base blended with spices and you create something very agreeable to the conservative but adventuresome palate.”

“We plan to continue in the direction of `one sauce cooking' with a variety of signature sauces, which we are making available to national restaurant groups under our co-branded marketing program,” says Van Joslin.

Starches thicken cook-up sauces such as gravies, tomato-based sauces, and cheese sauces. Modified food starches offer food formulators freeze/thaw stability over a range of pH conditions. Instant cold-water swelling starches are also available for applications such as dry sauce mixes.

Instead, flavorings and concentrated flavor bases that contain these notes can be used to add depth and uniqueness.

From Taste to Texture

Using a roux or cornstarch for texture will not work in commercial sauces. Industrial texturizing ingredients help control viscosity, emulsify, suspend particles, prevent separation during storage and improve sensory properties—such as body and cling.

A growing manufacturing industry trend in signature sauces is cold-processing, which saves equipment, energy, labor and time. Many sauces go through a high-shear processing step (colloid mill or high shear mixing) that can tax the stabilizer system.

Xanthan gum, the workhorse of the stabilizers, provides thickening and stabilizing power in hot or cold processed sauces. “Xanthan is excellent in freeze-thaw conditions due to its water-binding capacity and ability to maintain its textural properties under acid conditions and at high temperatures,” says Susan Gurkin, applications manager for Degussa Texturant Systems, Atlanta, Ga.

Hydrocolloids are often blended together to achieve various textural effects or to increase stability, optimal flowability, uniform consistency and cost efficiency. Xanthan, for example, is often combined with guar gum or other hydrocolloids. High concentrations of xanthan can form very elastic solutions with irregular flow. Guar in combination with xanthan will solve the elasticity problem.

Suppliers recommend that hydrocolloids are predispersed with the dry ingredients to keep the particles separate to avoid fast hydration, or they can be predispersed into an oil slurry. (For more detail, type “taming texture” into the keyword search field at

Adding the Signature

Low levels of spices and seasonings, fruits, vinegar, wine or soy sauce can add that special zing. “A sauce should be complex and have depth—if not, it will be boring,” says Vendome.

Some companies strive to relieve palatal boredom. Such is the case with formulators at HVJ International, Spring, Texas, creators of a wide variety of signature sauces that includes Strawberry Chipotle Sauce and Cilantro/Basil Marinara.

Tastes have changed dramatically in this country over the past decade. “Ten years ago no one was talking about cilantro or chipotle-based products in the U.S.,” says Hank Van Joslin, president of HVJ International.

“While standard salsas, marinades and sauces still sell well, formulators are building on them to create their own unique flavor blends.”

Take, for example, HVJ's Spicy Jones “Sauce It” Steak Sauce, which took years of product development. Ingredients include a blend of soy sauce, ketchup, sherry wine, Worcestershire sauce, fresh bell pepper, tamarind, grapefruit juice, and papaya.

Cheese sauces can be formulated using cheese in a variety of forms such as natural cheese, cheese powders, and process cheese. Also, dairy flavors and enzyme-modified cheeses give cheese sauces an extra flavor boost. While natural cheese gives excellent flavor, it requires formulation knowledge to attain a smooth, stable sauce.

Pasteurized processed cheeses in a variety of flavor profiles are more convenient to use because they do not require additional emulsifiers to obtain a smooth sauce, as with natural cheese, according to Betty Dawson, associate technology principal with Kraft Food Ingredients, Memphis, Tenn. They also deliver a more consistent flavor and texture than natural cheese.

Cream cheese not only adds richness and bite, but provides rich texture and mouthfeel in cheese sauces. Its own stabilizers can improve overall product stability.

Formulators can blend a variety of cheeses for a unique flavor profile. For a signature cheese sauce, a hint of garlic, onion, pesto, wine or soy sauce may do the trick. Cheddar sauces are complemented by horseradish, bacon, ham, ketchup, and Mexican flavors, says Dawson. Swiss or Monterey Jack cheese and sautéed mushroom flavor is also an excellent flavor blend.

Flavor Trends

Emerging flavors in America include lighter versions of heavier sauces and using certain ingredients as a background note for that signature profile.

“French Light is an emerging flavor trend that is derived from café or bistro-style food,” says Vendome. This includes very light and flavorful sauces. For example, a sauce with a high quality white wine and shallots and perhaps some beef broth that is reduced to round out the flavor profile—this keeps it light, but still interesting.”

Other trends include Nuevo Latino and Asian cuisines, such as Vietnamese. “If you want to see what will emerge in the food industry ten years from now, just look in restaurants today,” he adds.

Ingredients that will become trendier include coconut, but not necessarily as a sweet ingredient—in savory dishes as well. Light Asian cuisine with ginger and lemongrass, and non-fried items will continue to emerge. Roasted ingredients are extremely popular and will continue the trend, says Vendome.

Using red wine as a cooking ingredient will grow. While honey roasted flavoring is popular in nuts, it will become more widespread in poultry and other dishes, predicts Vendome.

“Combining two cooking techniques will become popular—for example, combining grilling and smoking or roasting and caramelizing,” says Vendome. “If you take smoked fish and sautée it—the flavor profile it acquires will be more multidimensional. Adding another layer of flavor will make a product more interesting.”

Another key ingredient for a great signature sauce...passion! “In order to develop a great dish with a great sauce, you need to establish an environment in which passion grows,” says Vendome. Culinary skill, technology, innovation and passion—the keys to gastromomic success.