By Cindy Hazen, Contributing Editor
At a recent cocktail party, I overheard someone talking with regret about the cheesecake. It was a diet-buster of the worst sort, because the flavor didn’t measure up to expectation. Calories—a lot of them—were taken in without sufficient reward.
From another corner, I heard a gushing comment about this same dessert topped with a raspberry coulis. This simple addition transformed the cheesecake from ordinary into extraordinary.
Whether creating entrées or desserts, nothing dresses up a dish better than a perfectly paired sauce. Flavor is the obvious asset, but the right sauce also adds layers of sheen, color, texture and, in the case of fruit, and often, a dash of healthy nutrition.
One of the most obvious ways to add nutrition to a sweet sauce is fruit. Whether it’s something familiar, like apples, or something more exotic, like passion fruit, fruit―used alone or combined with flavorful ingredients―provides a rainbow of sauce options for a range of applications.
Take blueberries, for example. “Blueberries add fruit identity, texture, color and flavor excitement to sauces, marinades and salsas by bringing out the best in the foods they dress," says Thomas Payne, industry consultant, U. S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC), San Mateo, CA. “Blueberries meld beautifully with savory, salty, hot and sweet ingredients."
For inspiration, consider a few flavor-pairing ideas presented by USHBC: blueberry blue cheese, blueberry lavender, blueberry chocolate, blueberry maple, blueberry clove, blueberry curry paste, blueberry brandy and blueberry truffle. “Some of the trendy blueberry combos range from ketchups, mustards and seafood sauces to honey-based drizzles and Asian sauces," Payne says.
Frozen and IQF berries can be ground directly into sauce mixes, “imparting rich blueberry flavor and showing lots of blueberry in the skin," Payne suggests. “They can add intriguing effects like blue swirls and patterns. Blueberry concentrate can be used for sweetening and color. Purée, a blend of berries in a concentrated form up to 45 °Brix, is used to formulate custom pastes. Blueberries can be incorporated in a variety of sauces, fillings and toppings. The natural fruit flavor and color provided by real blueberries are excellent for creating gels."
The fruit can even lend traditional diet-busters a healthy halo. Blueberries are nutritionally dense. They contain 14 grams carbohydrate per 100 grams, plus they are low in calories and virtually fat-free. They contain no cholesterol, are a source of fiber, and contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
In today’s sugar-conscious environment, fruit can naturally reduce use of added sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners “In fresh blueberries, fructose is 50% and glucose is 49% of the total sugars," Payne says. “This pattern is similar to the distribution in sugar, which is about half glucose and half fructose. Per 100 grams, fresh blueberries are 9.96 grams total sugar, 0.11 grams sucrose, 4.97 grams fructose and 4.88 grams glucose."
When formulating sauces, keep in mind fruit can carry a microbial load. In fruit-based sweet sauces, “such as a blackberry sauce, microbial culprits are molds and yeasts," cautions Romanna Clark, director R&D, Haliburton International Foods, Ontario, CA. “Bacterial spoilage associated with souring berries has been attributed to the growth of lactic-acid bacteria and acetic-acid bacteria. Sodium benzoate is a common antimicrobial active against yeast and bacteria, and the most-effective pH range is 2.5 to 4.0. Cultured dextrose is effective against yeast and mold. In a shelf-stable sweet sauce, the pH range must be less than 4.6 and processed and a packaged in a commercially sterile system."
Steve Corson, research chef, Northwest Naturals, Bothell, WA, says most sweeteners tend to work well in sweet sauces, but “fruit-based sweeteners are a great option for overall flavor and a clean ingredient label."
Fruit sweeteners can also be labeled as “fruit syrup." Commonly, they replace sugar or corn syrup. Some options are mixed-fruit syrup, pear syrup, pineapple syrup and apple syrup, all at about 70 °Brix.
Many sweeteners, like fructose, glucose and sucrose, occur naturally in many foods and plants, so a product designer has alternatives to added sugars. “Fructose is a predominant sugar of many fruits and honey, and along with glucose, is one of the two monosaccharides that make up sucrose, or common table sugar," explains Rachel Wicklund, food scientist, Tate & Lyle, Decatur, IL.
The overall flavor characteristic of a sweet sauce can be distinctive to the sweetener, “such as honey for a sweet honey habanero glaze," says Clark.
Sweeteners can bring other attributes to the dish. “The product appearance can also be driven by the sweetener," Clark says. “For example, corn syrups and fructose can give a shiny glaze appearance, whereas sugar creates a frosted appearance."