Savory, Sweet, and Spicy: A Full American Makeover

One of the most interesting restaurant industry trends that have taken place during the COVID-19 pandemic, is the widespread interest in sauces and condiments. With hundreds of thousands of restaurants closing, many have attempted menu innovation and the use of exotic sauces. Flavors from Asia and Latin America have swept the United States in the last twelve months, with many different combinations. This does not mean that the basics are out, as many restaurants have returned to their roots putting a classic spin on American flavor favorites. Condiments were big business in 2020, raking in $4.1 billion, and remain a major food trend in 2021.

Sauce Bases

Despite their wide variety of flavors, most sauces consist of the same bases. This is great news for someone looking to try new things in their kitchen! Tomatoes, mustards, and soy are all very common sauce bases. Condiments which are more solid are generally made by taking fruits and vegetables, and pounding them into a pulp or paste. Supportive flavors, especially aromatics, such as garlic or ginger, give these items the appetizing smell and taste they are most known for. Finally, salt, sugar, citrus, or charring can take the sharper edges off a sauce by balancing out its taste.

Asian Sensation

In the last year, Americans have acquired a taste for Korean and Japanese Flavors. The Korean flavors utilize many that Americans are familiar with, such as sweet, smoky (BBQ), and spicy. Korean BBQ flavored beef jerky appears in meat and non-meat snacks in America. The flavors themselves come into a wide variety of restaurant’s new menu items and retail store pickings. Chongkukchang, for instance, is a fermented paste made from soybeans. It can be used in a variety of dishes and is known for its bold umami flavor. Other Korean flavors, such as gochujang, are made from fermented soybeans and red peppers. These sauces can add color and flavor profile to one’s stews and chili’s . 

Japanese flavors, according to Chef Andrew Hunter, the corporate executive for Kikkoman Sales USA Inc, are making waves in American cuisine as well . According to Hunter, these flavors are popular because they are clean and recognizable to the American palate, despite the complexity of the dishes. Most Americans are familiar with soy sauce and panko breadcrumbs. Both are widely accepted among Americans who have been cooking with these Japanese staples for years. Many Japanese condiments such as pickled ginger, and umeboshi (pickled Japanese plum) are becoming extremely popular. These serve well on rice or to pickle various meats.

XO sauce is another Asian favorite that is making the rounds in US restaurant menu development. The sauce derives from ingredients such as dried scallops or shrimp and hot peppers. It is a pricier option and is very labor-intensive to make. For this reason, it is often dubbed, “the caviar of the Orient”. Like the pickled Japanese condiments, it serves well on rice and vegetables.

Latin American Heat

Brazilian flavor has become embedded in the US culinary market. Hot honey came about by an American student in Brazil. This sweet and spicy sauce emerges by sticking minced chili peppers into a jar of honey. This dish is relatively straightforward, requiring minimal preparation. Many restaurants, such as Via 313 located in Austin, and Paulie Gee’s located in Brooklyn have incorporated this unique taste into dishes ranging from pizza to seafood. The appeal of this sauce is its simplicity. Americans have grown accustomed to the sweetness of honey, and the spiciness of the chili, as both are core domestic culinary ingredients.

American Classics

Americans are not just trying exotic sauces and condiments. A recent study by Mindel on Barbeque sauce confirmed that most Americans enjoy barbeque sauce, but also expressed interest in trying new regional flavors. Many Americans desire to “domestically travel” and try sauces unfamiliar to their parts of the country. Restaurants and grocery stores are taking this data and expanding their barbeque sauce options. Other condiment makers, such as Columbus vegetable oils, have partnered with restaurant operators in their Butcher Boy lineup. Not only can restaurants use their familiar flavors such as ranch, barbeque, buffalo sauce, and Louisiana hot sauce to mix new flavors, but the customers can experiment, making their own sauce at home.

David Bezenyei, the sales manager of Columbus Vegetable oils, also noted that avocado oil has become increasingly popular, especially among young Americans. This oil has numerous health benefits and reflects increasingly how United States consumers are taking notice of the ingredients in their food, furthering the clean label movement. Expect an uptick in healthier sauces and condiments in 2021.

Sauces in the Last Year

Sauces are getting bolder and more diverse. With the rise of meal kits, alternative cooking oils, and flavors from around the globe, restaurants and grocery stores allow the consumer more choices. With more Americans cooking at home, these flavors will become more widespread. 

For instance, the fermentation of ingredients used in the Asian flavors above has spread to hot sauces. Many Americans are now using fermented chili to add an additional flavor profile kick to their sauces. Additionally, as King Phojanakong, the Chief Taste officer of Small Axe Peppers LLC notes, spicy condiments will continue to be an upward trend in America. The health benefits of capsaicin are becoming more and more well known. The bottom line is, that sauces are here to stay. We can all be excited for the new flavors that are sure to come!

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Tony Lagana

Chef Tony is a 42-year veteran of the food industry and is often known by his peers as “The New Product Guru.” Throughout his illustrious culinary career, he’s earned several notable titles and positions including Acquisition International’s “Most Influential Product Development Expert, U.S.” in 2019.

In 1997, Tony also founded Culinary Systems Inc., a group of culinary consultants that assist with culinary training, restaurant start-ups, concept development, and more. Since then, Tony and his team have generated over two billion dollars in sales for their clients in restaurants, retail, and manufacturing.

The strategic, technical, and culinary skills of Tony and his team can be seen on the menus of national chains, in the portfolio of national food manufacturers, and on the grocery shelves of products produced by major retail companies.