Consumers are actively seeking enhanced culinary experiences. Condiments and sauces offer global flavors and tastes that can be enjoyed in restaurants or brought home to the kitchen.

[Editor’s note: The following feature is heavily based on the executive summary of “Condiments & Sauces: Culinary Trend Mapping Report” (June 2011, written by the Center for Culinary Development and published by Packaged Facts.) See more information at article’s end.]

February 2012/ Prepared Foods -- Mainstream America’s amped-up fascination with all things culinary has led to tastes and flavors like umami, harissa and even tangy classic sauces that chefs have been working with (and enjoying) for years.

This interest in bigger flavors that condiments and sauces provide will continue to drive the food market. According to the “Packaged Facts Food Shopper Insights Survey” of March 2011, 53% of U.S. grocery shoppers “somewhat” or “strongly” agree they “like hot and spicy foods.” The percentage rises to 58% among Gen Y adults. The same survey revealed that a majority of adult shoppers seeking global foods purchase Mexican and Chinese/Japanese flavored items. However, a larger percentage of Gen Y adults than adult shoppers in general seek out Indian/South Central Asian and Middle Eastern flavors. This indicates a broad interest in global flavors of all kinds. (See chart “Foreign Fare.”)

One of the easiest ways to provide that much-craved, worldly flavor “kick” is through the addition of a sauce or condiment. Every culture and cuisine has something to bring to the global table. Gen Ys have figured this out, having been raised on meals that include soy sauce, wasabi and tomatillo salsa. Expect them to continue their exploration for new and authentic flavor adventures in the condiment and sauce aisle and on restaurant menus.
Members of the Gen Y group (as well as other demographics) also are big customizers. With Americans’ penchant for mixing and matching cuisines for the sake of thrilling their taste buds—sriracha aïoli, for example—consumers are breaking the rules and creating their own new flavor enhancers and combos. Romesco made with toasted hazelnuts or French Fries baptized with short-rib gravy no longer raise eyebrows.

As tastes for condiments and sauces expand far beyond ketchup, mustard and mayo, diners and home cooks are open to unique ingredients and flavor pairings. This led experts at the Center for Culinary Development (CCD) to profile trends that range from twists on the classics (flavored aïoli), to the Southeast Asian staple sriracha, to the so-called “fifth taste” (umami), to an over-the-top style of Quebec-born, cheese-curd and gravy-topped French fries called poutine.

Emerging Sauces and Condiments
The CCD looks to its 80-plus member Chefs’ Council to help identify emerging trends. Through 20 years of experience, a technique called “Trend Mapping” determines which trends are gaining traction. Trend Mapping is guided by the premise that major food trends pass through five distinct stages on their way to the mainstream.

In Stage 1, the ingredient, dish and/or cooking technique appears at upscale dining establishments, ethnic and popular independent restaurants blessed with creative chefs, and among diners with adventurous palates. Poutine is at this stage.

While the CCD has seen aïoli as a dip or chili as a topping, nothing is quite as unique and intriguing as Canadian poutine, the shock-inducing pile of French fries, cheese curds and brown gravy currently peeling out from the food-truck scene and appearing on fine-dining menus. The gravy sauce-—traditionally made from a roux with chicken stock, a can or a packaged mix—enhanced with chewy cheese curds, elevates fries to a new “fork required” experience.

In Stage 2, the item is featured in specialty consumer-oriented food media, such as Food & Wine and Bon Appétit magazines; food blogs; and specialty retail stores serving culinary professionals and serious home chefs. The “Condiments & Sauces: Culinary Trend Mapping Report” places “umami in a bottle” as being at this stage. Umami is called the fifth sense of taste, that of intense richness and satisfaction. Although not a new concept or specific ingredient, it is coming into its own by name on several seasoning products (and even one popular hamburger chain, “Umami Burger”).
Gastrique, a classic French reduction of sugar and vinegar resulting in a thick syrupy sauce, is an example of a sauce at early Stage 2. Gastriques are traditionally used in dishes with meat (and often with fruit) to balance out flavors. A well-known example is duck à l’orange. Today, chefs are using gastriques in new and exciting ways with meat, fish and even in desserts.

Stage 3 is where the item begins to appear in mainstream QSR chain restaurants, such as Applebee’s or Chili’s, as well as retail stores, such as Williams-Sonoma, that target recreational cooks. It also begins showing up on food TV shows. Romesco, a traditional sauce from the Catalan region of Spain made with roasted red peppers, almonds, breadcrumbs, olive oil and garlic, has moved up to Stage 3 by enhancing a number of new chain restaurant dishes. Flavorful, healthful Romesco sauce presents a great opportunity for restaurateurs and food manufacturers to capitalize on its Spanish global heritage and emphasize the intense, rich flavor that can be used in dips, sauces and marinades, at home or in restaurants.
In Stage 4, consumer service magazines and family-oriented publications, such as Family Circle and Better Homes and Gardens, are picking up the buzz on the item. It also starts appearing on popular recipe websites. The “Condiments & Sauces” report notes sriracha, a fiery sauce inspired by traditional Southeast Asian hot sauces made from ground chile peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt moved from Vitenamese restaurant tables to upscale restaurant kitchens as complements of staff meals for years.

Sriracha is at Stage 4. Consumers craving heat and spice have since flocked to the stuff, turning it into a cult favorite, especially the U. S.-based Huy Fong Foods Inc. brand “Rooster Sauce.” With only this one major U.S. producer of sriracha, there is definitely room for growth.
Another example of a Stage 4 sauce is chimichurri—an Argentinean herb sauce made with parsley, olive oil, garlic and salt. It appears in many a grilling recipe and, at Stage 4, has just begun peeking out from the seasoning aisle—as it begins to enter Stage 5.
A trend is at Stage 5, when it makes its way to quick-service restaurant menus and is either starting to appear or is having an increased presence on grocery store shelves. Aïoli is at this stage. Aïoli, a versatile French-inspired condiment, which is basically garlic mayonnaise, has infiltrated the U.S. market in every pocket of the food industry, from fine-dining to the “Golden Arches.”

Garlic is the base, but aïolis of various flavors abound—including lemon, basil, chipotle, parsley, harissa and avocado. The ability to add so many varying flavors, while also delivering tasty, creamy richness, drives home aïoli’s potential for new dips, spreads, condiments and accompaniments.

Trending into Organic and Natural

Kara Nielsen, trendologist at the CCD and managing editor of its bi-monthly “Culinary Trend Mapping Reports,” looks to independent restaurants and cafés, specialty and natural food markets, and food-related blogs and media to identify emerging trends that could be translated into successful products for a company’s consumer packaged good and foodservice clients. While surveying the scene of condiments and sauces, she noticed a growing interest in more natural recipes—those with simple, clean labels—and organic ingredients.

Organic condiments are also found on the shelves of both specialty and natural food grocery stores. Just as parents and health-conscious shoppers seek out organic tomatoes, they are also looking for organic ketchup to garnish all-natural hot dogs and grass-fed burgers for the family. It is a bonus that these organic condiments have cleaner labels and cleaner flavors than their commodity counterparts.
Thanks to today’s “gastropub” trend (casual tavern-style restaurants with upgraded menu items that pair well with craft beer), more chefs are serving house-made condiments. These are often spiked with unique ingredients, like spices and spirits. Some examples are beer-enhanced cheese sauce; coarse, flavorful mustards; and chutneys. While more flavorful and creative, these condiments also are considered “purer” and “more natural.” They eschew many of the food ingredients and additives found in retail packaged products.

This is resonating with consumers who are discovering recipes online and in food magazines trumpeting the goodness (and the cost savings) of homemade condiments. Making simple sauces, ketchups, relishes and mayonnaises at home is part of a new, do-it-yourself aesthetic inspired by home-grown produce and seasonal farmers’ market fare, as well as a desire to have greater creative control over the food on the table.

The “Condiments & Sauces: Culinary Trend Mapping Report” (June 2011) is a joint publication written by Center for Culinary Development (CCD) and published and marketed by Packaged Facts, a division of The San Francisco-based CCD offers a full range of strategic innovation and product development services, as well as trend immersions and trend tours. The unique and indispensible “Culinary Trend Mapping Reports” are bi-monthly publications that profile seven emerging and arriving trends within a topic and offer product developers strategic ideas for trend translation into packaged goods and foodservice products. They are available individually or by subscription. For more information, contact Kara Nielsen, trendologist at CCD,, or visit


Sweet, Smoky, Stabilized: It’s Science

The formulation of many condiments and sauces goes beyond aromatic flavoring choices to ingredients that can impact taste and texture. Multi-purpose Woody’s Sweet ‘n Smoky sauce, positioned either as a dipping condiment or as a BBQ sauce, relies on a combination of ingredients to deliver a sweet, smoked hickory taste as well as a thick consistency. High-fructose corn syrup, pineapple juice and sucrose all step up to the plate to deliver a sweet balance to the tang from tomato paste and vinegar. Guar and xanthan gums, along with other components, such as the tomato paste, and seasonings like powdered onion, serve to thicken the product and provide “cling.”

In regards to texture, formulators sometimes rely on the synergistic interaction between xanthan gum and galactomannans, such as guar, locust bean, tara and fenugreek gums. The viscosity of a xanthan/guar gum blend in solution is usually greater than would be expected calculated from a weighted average of their individual viscosities. This viscosity appears to be impacted by balancing temperature and salt concentration, among other factors. For example, one 2007 study by researchers Khouryieh, HA, et al. shows that, as the concentration of salt was increased from a 2mM NaCl to a 40mM solution, a significant decrease in viscosity was observed for both a blend of native xanthan/guar and a blend of deacetylated xanthan/guar gum. An earlier, online paper by Khouryieh reported that a stronger synergistic interaction was observed at a mixing temperature of 80°C than at 25°C.

--Claudia D. O’Donnell, Contributing Editor