Prepared Foods talks with Jeffrey Cousminer, R&D manager for Stonewall Kitchen, a specialty foods producer based in York, Maine. “Chef Jeff” is a CIA graduate and has a Master’s in Food Science from Rutgers. He also is a founder and former president of the Research Chefs Association.

Prepared Foods: What trends influence your approach to fruit and fruit ingredients?

Jeffrey Cousminer: We’ve seen exponential growth in the availability of exotic and ethnic fruits. Think about what you can find today at even a modest-sized grocery store. There’s everything from dragon fruit to tamarind to jackfruit to cherimoyas to mangosteens to blood oranges to fresh lychees. While everything won’t translate well to my product portfolio, some items definitely will.

In other instances, it’s isn’t the fruit itself that is new, but rather the finished product application. For example, we have a new line of fruit-based hot sauces. We have a Habanero Mango Hot Sauce, and will shortly launch a Wild Maine Blueberry Serrano Hot Sauce. In fact, hot and sweet is one of our favorite playgrounds. We have Pineapple Sriracha Jam, Spicy Pumpkin Butter, Hot Pepper Peach Jam, Curried Mango Grille Sauce, Apple Jalapeno Jelly, Raspberry Chipotle BBQ Sauce, and a whole slew of spicy fruit salsas including Peach, Raspberry, Mango, and Pineapple Chipotle.  

PF: Any other new twists on fruit combinations?

Cousminer: In addition to the “heat and sweet” trend, we see traction in the “fruit-plus-alcohol” sector. Some of our most popular products include Bellini Jam (peach and Prosecco), Bourbon Pear Onion Jam, Raspberry Peach Champagne Jam, Peach Amaretto Jam (a personal favorite), Wild Maine Blueberry Champagne Jam, Mimosa Jam (made with orange liqueur), and Roasted Peach Whiskey Sauce.

PF: Speaking of Stonewall Kitchen, what’s a new fruit-based product you’re particularly proud of?

Cousminer: Another area that is trending is organic. We became organic certified in fall 2015 and launched our first certified organic products in January 2016. These included organic Maine Blueberry Cherry Jam, Maple Apple Onion Jam, Strawberry Vanilla Jam and Sweet Chili Jam. We’re now up to a dozen organic products including dressings, barbecue and teriyaki sauces, and a Spicy Corn and Tomato Relish that could be mistaken for a salsa.

Our Organic Maine Blueberry Cherry Jam recently was selected as a winner in Prevention Magazine’s 2017 Cleanest Packaged Food awards. 

PF: Any prediction about fruit ingredient trends for 2017 and 2018?

Cousminer: Like tomatoes, peppers also are botanically categorized as fruits and there is probably no “hotter” fruit right now than hot peppers. We launched a Ghost Chile Salsa recently and are about to launch a Ghost Chile Queso Dip. We’re also working on a Ghost Pepper Jelly and a few other “secret ghost” items that I cannot divulge yet.

We also use serranos, aji amarillos, chipotles, poblanos, Hatch chilies, red and green jalapenos, and habaneros. And don’t get me started on Sriracha! We currently have nine products using Sriracha sauce as an ingredient, everything from Sriracha Aioli to Peppadew Sriracha Bloody Mary Mixer to Roasted Garlic Sriracha Hot Sauce to Sriracha Honey Mustard Dip.  

Originally appeared in the May, 2017 issue of Prepared Foods as FIRST PERSON.