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Kicking Up the Heat in Meat


Food Business News

Some call it hot. Others prefer to say spicy. They are referring to “kick,” that painful, yet pleasurable sensation of the mouth on fire. It’s a sensory experience today’s consumers enjoy that’s intensifying with no signs of abating.

Kick typically comes from capsaicin, the odorless, tasteless, crystalline chemical compound found in chili peppers. Kick is what’s driving flavor innovation in meat and poultry, namely sausages, patties and breaded chicken. It’s keeping these products relevant to adventurous meat consumers who have more choices than ever before.

“Consumers are on a big, broad journey of discovery, moving out of their comfort zones to explore new food experiences, with flavor – in particular flavors that provide kick – playing a major part,” said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation for Innova Market Insights. “Brands are leaning towards more remarkable and unusual flavor hybrids, as well as stronger taste experiences.”

This is supported by two out of three Americans, according to an Innova Market Insights survey, who agreed they love to discover new flavors. Even among more traditional consumers who don’t feel this way, there is still a role for reinventing classic flavors with novel twists, alongside developing new and more unusual flavors and combinations.

“Today’s consumers regard themselves as world citizens and are increasingly interested in diverse flavors inspired by foreign cuisines, in particular, Southeast Asian, East Asian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern,” Ms. Williams said. “Chili peppers are often a part of authentic recipes.”

Authenticity includes specificity. In many instances it’s no longer enough to refer to a food as spicy or hot. Consumers want to better understand the origin of the kick, including the chili’s flavor profile. Marketers are starting to call out the chili pepper’s name in prepared meat and poultry, often describing its level of heat and flavor.

“Adventurous consumers worldwide are embracing chilis and spices,” said Soumya Nair, director of marketing insights for Kerry North America. “They are searching for more intense heat experiences, regional authenticity and experimentation.”

Hormel Foods Corp. is adding a little kick to its Hormel Natural Choice snack packs with a chipotle chicken option. The chipotle is a smoked and dried jalapeño that has a little bit of heat and a woody, smoky flavor with a hint of cocoa.

Chipotles and jalapeños range from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville Heat Units (S.H.U.), a measure of the concentration of capsaicin that is determined by high-performance liquid chromatography. Pure capsaicin tops out the Scoville scale at 16,000,000 S.H.U.

To compare, bell peppers lack capsaicin and therefore score zero on the Scoville scale. A mild-heat pepper is the ancho, also known as poblano. It is 1,000 to 2,000 S.H.U. For many, anchos, chipotles and jalapeños are the point of entry into hot and spicy cuisine …