Will Spicy Dairy Foods Catch Fire?

Boldly flavored cheeses, yogurt, dips, even ice cream could wake up sales in the dairy market with unexpected heat and savory twists.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

The dairy case has been in need of some excitement now that Greek yogurt has matured. The excitement is coming from an unlikely source: spices and, in particular, heat.

For years, cheese makers have been showcasing their artisanal and specialty products with inclusions such as jalapenos, habaneros, cayenne, paprika and herbs. Now bright spices and peppers are starting to show up in other dairy foods. Millennials love hot foods, so it was only a matter of time for more dips, yogurts and even ice creams to catch some fire.

Scott Litke, owner of SEL Food Sales, a Lehi, Utah, ingredient representative for ice cream products, has been experimenting with "hot" ice cream flavors, including some concepts featuring Tabasco products. "Most of our clients want mainstream [flavor] ideas and concepts, but we have successfully formulated flavors outside of the mainstream -- like a Fire & Ice lime sherbet with Tabasco Green Jalapeño Sauce to give it some kick. Another was Snowball Chance in Hell, a white ice cream with honey, marshmallow, coconut and Tabasco Original Red Sauce for the heat."

You may not see "hot" ice cream flavors from the mass marketers, but some regional ice cream producers are making them in smaller batches. "The key is to not overpower with the heat," says Litke. "If not overdone, it can be a nice surprise."

In the vastly competitive yogurt market, food companies are blending heat with sweet, one way to wake up their sales. Chobani recently launched a few spicy twists in its Flip yogurt line. Its Sriracha Mango, a low-fat mango yogurt, has spicy sriracha-coated rice crisps, mini sesame sticks and roasted salted cashews. Inspired by its Chobani SoHo Cafe, the combination's crunchy mix-ins pair well with the creamy Greek yogurt. Chobani also offers a Flip in Chipotle-Pineapple, with low-fat pineapple yogurt and chipotle-flavored granola, smoked almonds and pumpkin seeds.

Spreadable yogurt from Karoun Dairies Inc., Sun Valley, Calif., includes flavored yogurt cheeses known as labne, often used instead of cream cheese or sour cream. Rich in probiotics, Karoun Kefir Cheese Labne is available in three zesty flavors − Creamy Ranch, French Onion and Spicy Garden Vegetables. The flavored labne can be used as a dip, in recipes or spread on breads, crackers and crudités.

Lebanese-style Sohha Savory Yogurt, from the New York company of the same name, may prove savory could be the new sweet. Sohha's taste is reminiscent of yogurt with savory flavors found in the Middle East and India, explains co-founder John Fout. Yogurt doesn't have to be sweet, he says, and is eaten in other ways in other parts of the world, often topped with olive oil, peppers, pine nuts and sumac.

International influences are expanding consumer palates with complex flavor profiles like spicy and bitter, explains Mintel Group analyst Beth Bloom. Spicy flavors are showing up in ice cream because consumers are looking for adventure when it comes to dessert. Restaurants across the country offer spicy and savory flavors that include the zip of chili peppers or black pepper, often paired with sweeter fruity, chocolate or vanilla flavors or spices like cinnamon, cumin and ginger.

Last year, Pierre’s Ice Cream, Cleveland, partnered with Steve Schimoler, chef and owner of Crop Bistro & Bar and Crop Kitchen, to create new flavors for its Pierre’s Chef’s Signature Ultimate Ice Cream Pints line. One of the flavors, Holé Molé, is based off Schimoler's famous dessert of the same name. It blends cinnamon ice cream with what Pierre's calls chili choco chips, chocolate-covered toffee pieces and a molé fudge swirl. Schimoler invented and originally offered the new flavors on his restaurant menu and they were hits.

"Pierre’s loves to invent new flavors and creations," says Laura Hindulak, vice president of marketing. "Crop is known for its tasty, whimsical cuisine and inventive desserts. Being able to recreate these delicious desserts in an ultimate, super-premium ice cream that can be enjoyed at home is very exciting."

The right combinations can make for some really delicious flavors, she adds. "With Holé Molé, heat is a part of the experience, but not so much that it overwhelms or overshadows the other flavors. The response for Holé Molé has been very positive." Ice cream lovers have shown an increasing appetite for adventure, she says, so interesting flavors and unique flavor combinations attract people. "It’s our job to create fun recipes they want to enjoy," Hindulak concludes.

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