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Some like it sweet and some like it hot. Why not enjoy the best of both worlds? One of the newest food trends is combining sweet and spicy flavors in recipes. More and more, people are enjoying spicier food especially in ethnic dishes but they also want the complex depth of flavor that comes from combining one or more tastes. When sweet is added to spice, the heat is mitigated allowing the taste of the spice to be better captured and appreciated without burning one’s taste buds. When spice is added to sweet, it gives food an unexpected kick. Sweet meets heat combinations are finding their way into sauces, glazes, snacks and beverages – Mexican hot chocolate, anyone? It’s an exciting way to enjoy familiar, favorite foods. Think about how much we all love Sriracha, the hot sauce that also has sugar, garlic, vinegar and salt in it for a complex mix of flavor sensations and a taste that is sweeter than ordinary hot sauces. Ready to try heat plus sweet for yourself? Here’s how to combine sweet and spicy flavors in your recipes.

1. Pair Chile and Chocolate


The combination of dark chocolate and chile dates back to the ancient Aztecs. They created the drink hot chocolate by roasting cocoa beans, grinding them with water and flavoring it with chiles, vanilla, honey and pepper. Today, people combine these two flavors in a variety of recipes from savory entrees and sauces to desserts. When you combine chocolate and chile, you experience the sweetness of the chocolate followed by just the right amount of heat at the end. If you want to try it, just add a pinch of chile flakes or minced chile pepper to your chocolate recipes or add some unsweetened chocolate or cocoa powder to your savory recipes. Savory dishes include this Beer and Chocolate Chili With Smoky Sofrito Sauce and Chipotle Chocolate Chili. Spicy desserts you might want to try include Black Bean Chili Chocolate Brownies, Super Easy Spicy Raw Chocolate Bonbons, Churros With Coconut Sugar and Chilli Chocolate Sauce, Mexican Spiced Chocolate Covered Cashews, Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles and Mexican Hot Chocolate Covered Strawberries.

2. Spice Up Sweet Potatoes

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Sweet potatoes and pumpkin have natural sweetness and when paired with spices such as chiles or jalapeno, the resulting flavor is amazing. The balance of sweet and spicy is only matched by the complexity of the flavors. The best spices to pair with sweet potatoes and pumpkin are cumin, cinnamon, curry powder, paprika, cayenne and chile. Whenever I make sweet potato fries, I season them with paprika and chile powder. Try these Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Latin Spice Mix and these Baked Cinnamon-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries With Apple Date Butter Dipping Sauce. Instead of vegan butter or maple syrup, top your baked sweet potatoes with a spicy kick like this Baked Stuffed Sweet Potato and Sriracha Cashew Cheese Sauce. These Sweet Potato Nachos have both red chile flakes and jalapenos. Chipotle chile powder and maple syrup come together with sweet potatoes to make these Chipotle Maple Sweet Potato Burgers. Other sweet and spicy dishes include Curried Hashbrowns, Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Chili, Spicy Sweet Potato Salad, Buffalo Cauliflower with Sweet Potato Noodles, Spicy Indian Sweet Potato, Spicy Sweet Potato Hummus, and Chipotle Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili.

3. Fire Up Fruit

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Fresh fruits, especially tropical and citrus fruits, are sweet, juicy and perfectly delicious on their own but paired with spice and heat, they are even more perfect. Chile peppers are tropical themselves and pairing them with fruit helps to bring out their tropical side. Fruit also helps to calm the heat which is why lemon and lime are often served with spicy food as in this Roasted Cauliflower with Chipotle and Lime and Charred Corn on the Cob with Thai Chili-Lime Mayo. I like to make a sauce to saute tofu and veggies in that combines fresh juice with sweet Chinese barbecue sauce and spicy hot sauce. You can use whatever fruit juices you like but they should be balanced so choose one sweet fruit like mango and one more acidic fruit like pineapple. To make my Mango Pineapple Sauce: In a liquid measuring cup, combine ¾ fresh mango juice or pureed mango, ½ cup fresh pineapple juice, 1/3 cup hoisin sauce, ¼ cup tamari or soy sauce, 2 tbs. brown rice vinegar and 1 tbs. Sriracha hot sauce. Add the sauce to the pan of whatever you are cooking and simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes.

Add some sweetness to your spicy salsa by adding fruit. Try this Blueberry Salsa, Tremendous Papaya Salsa, and this Sweet and Spicy Salsa where mango and nectarine balance the jalapeno peppers. My favorite way to cook with oranges is to use their sweetness to balance spicy flavors. My Orange Glazed Sweet and Spicy Tempeh has sweet orange marmalade and Cajun spices paired in a marriage made in heaven. I use fresh orange juice to brighten up this Vegan Orange “Chicken” with Zucchini Noodles and in the marinade for my Pineapple Island Tofu Kebabs. Don’t miss my recipe for Orange-Infused BBQ Sauce that is perfect for making Epic Vegan BBQ Tofu Wings. Sweet and sour dishes usually have some kind of fruit juice in them to balance the heat like the pineapple and orange in this Sweet and Sour Cauliflower and Vegan Sweet and Sour Chicken and the pomegranate juice in this Pomegranate Sweet and Sour Tempeh. The fruit perfectly balances the heat of the curry powder and chiles in The Yummiest Mango Curry You’ll Ever Taste while watermelon and chiles marry in this Watermelon Gazpacho and this Watermelon Gazpacho with Beet Noodles.

4. A Spoonful of Sugar


Of course, another way to sweeten up a spicy dish is to add some type of sugar or sweetener. There are a lot of choices – sugar, brown sugar,  and healthy alternatives to white sugar such as maple syrup, agave nectar, coconut sugar, and vegan honey. In Jamaican Jerk seasoning, brown sugar balances the chiles and Scotch Bonnet peppers. Brown sugar is the sweet note to the Sriracha in this Sweet and Spicy Vegan Pork and to the chile sauce in this Braised Seitan Short Ribs in Spicy Chile Sauce. Maple syrup balances the Sriracha hot sauce in this Soy Maple Tempeh Bowl and the curry powder in this Curry Maple Yam Soup. Pair agave nectar or vegan honey with jalanpeno to make a delicious dressing in these Crunchy Couscous Tacos With a Sweet n’ Spicy Jalapeno Dressing.

It may be a hot trend right now but people have been mixing sweet and spicy flavors since ancient times. When something works, it becomes timeless. If you’re a fan of sweet or spicy food, try them together for exciting dishes that will make all your taste buds happy.

Lead Image Photo: The Yummiest Mango Curry You Will Ever Taste

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