Friday, April 5, 2024

Heat—Maybe with Sweet—Makes Sense in New Dairy Innovations


(left) For Summer 2021, Marble Slam Creamery offered the Limited-Time-Only Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Ice Cream and Shake. The mischievous matchup was a perfect combination of sweet heat and was described as “coming in hot, but surprisingly cool.”

You may have read about the spoof this week by PepsiCo in the U.K. On April Fools’ Day, the company announced it would start selling milk shots alongside its newest ‘Extra Flamin’ Hot’ spicy snacks, as research showed those in the U.K. could not handle the heat of the Extra Flamin’ Hot flavor. 

The ‘Not Extra Flamin’ Hot Milk’ was to hit the shelves on April 1st and be on sale for “as long it takes for the British taste buds to mature to the spice,” said Dalila FopsRoy, head of brand innovation. PepsiCo is onto something. 

Arby’s did this for real two years ago. The “We have the meats” fast-food chain offered the Diablo Dare Challenge. The Diablo Dare is a sandwich so spicy that it included a free vanilla shake to cool the mouth between bites. It combined heat from five sources of spice: ghost pepper jack cheese, fiery hot seasoning, fire-roasted jalapenos and diablo barbecue sauce served on a toasted red chipotle bun with choice of 13-hour smoked brisket or crispy chicken. 

Diablo, which translates to devil, is Arby’s barbecue sauce that packs in the heat from cayenne, chili, chipotle and habanero peppers. The fiery hot seasoning is made-up of cayenne red peppers, habanero powder and capsicum.

What’s capsicum? All chilies belong to the genus Capsicum, with each chili pepper possessing unique tastes and aromas because of the varying combination of the hundreds of different chemical compounds found in them. It is the odorless, tasteless, crystalline chemical compound known as capsaicin that stimulates nerve endings in the mouth and skin, triggering production of a neurotransmitter that signals the brain that the body is in pain, specifically because it is on fire. Not only is it inherently in chilies, it is available as an isolated ingredient and the compound for making foods fiery.  

The concentration of capsaicin, which is referred to as the chili’s pungency, is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) using high-performance liquid chromatography. Pure capsaicin tops out the Scoville scale at 16 million SHU. To perfect the combination of flavor and heat from chilis, it’s all about managing capsaicin levels to allow the flavor of spices and chili peppers to be tasted. And, with some chilis, heat may come on fast, while with others, it may be slow. Some strike and vanish. Others linger. 

The Carolina Reaper is among the world’s hottest chilies, averaging 1.64 million SHU, with some peaking at almost 2.2 million SHU. While the pepper is said to have a fruity aroma and flavor, most tastebuds never get the chance to taste it. Bell peppers, on the other hand, which are also part of the Capsicum genus, lack capsaicin. They score zero on the Scoville scale. This is why the bell pepper’s flavor is fully tasted and is noticeably different between the different colored cultivars.

That milkshake Arby’s gave out with the Diablo Dare helped solubilize the capsaicin, allowing for more flavor to come through. This is because capsaicin is soluble in fat and the milkshake has a high fat content. So does cheese. 

But it’s more than that. Remember, capsaicin binds to pain receptors in the mouth, which causes the burning sensation. Casein—one of milk’s proteins--has the ability to bind to capsaicin molecules, reducing their ability to bind to the receptors and therefore diminishing the sensation of heat. 

And this is why dairy foods are a great vehicle for heat. 
There is a growing trend toward worldly, spicier flavors, according to the culinary experts at Affinity Group, Charlotte, N.C. They urge industry professionals to embrace the increasing demand for spicy flavors as an opportunity for innovation and collaboration in order to foster growth in the coming year.

“We’re seeing a growing interest in exploring the complexity of heat beyond just the intensity,” said Bridget McCall, vice president of culinary and innovation at Affinity Group. “It’s about understanding and appreciating the nuanced flavors that different spices bring to the table.”

She emphasized that this trend underscores a broader culinary narrative where adventurous eaters are eager to explore diverse, vibrant flavors from around the globe. Balancing the heat while enhancing and diversifying flavor profiles is key to successfully navigating this trend. Understanding how to pair the fruity notes of a habanero pepper with something as rich as dark chocolate can transform a dish into an unforgettable experience, exciting today’s diner with culinary innovation. (Sounds like a great ice cream mix-in.)

“It’s not about adding heat for the sake of heat,” said Rebecca Gruwell, corporate chef at Affinity Group. “It’s about creating a balanced dish where the spice enhances, rather than overwhelms, the overall flavor.”

2024 World Championship Cheese Contest 
This year was the 35th biennial World Championship Cheese Contest. Hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association in Madison, Wis., on March 7, this year’s contest featured an impressive array of entries, with more than 3,300 products from 25 countries and 32 U.S. states. 
A cheese from Switzerland-based Gourmino took home the top overall honor once again. This time, however, it was for the company’s Hornbacher, rather than its Gruyere, which was the star the past two contests. 

Artikaas Vintage Lot 18, an aged gouda, was named first runner-up. Artikaas is exclusively imported by Dutch Cheese Makers, the daughter company of Royal A-ware in the Netherlands. 

Eighty four best-of-class finishes went to American cheesemakers, who received the most gold medals. All results from the 2024 World Championship Cheese Contest can be found HERE. Congrats!

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