Savory sweets

Blurring the lines between innovative and extreme


Caramelized onions are a fairly common term in cooking; caramel coated onions, on the other hand, are a definite niche that only appeals to a few brave souls. Where is the line between innovative and nauseating? Not all palates are created equal, which is why there is such a vast interest in finding what ingredients blend well and which are better left unsaid, or better yet, untried.

Define savory. Can it be done? Some foodies equate it with umami, a Japanese term that implies something other than sweet, salty, sour or bitter. Other foodies believe that the term savory isn’t a taste, per se, but varied ingredient blends to create contrasting tastes in the same bite. While the term “savory” is debatable, a variety of flavors are infiltrating the sweet landscape.

This isn’t a new concept; sweets have an incredibly savory past, and there is a growing trend of blending sweet with the not-so-sweet. Foodies are spoon-fiving some of the new and interesting creations coming from the yogurt, ice cream and confectionary industries.

Lollipops are no longer restricted to the fruit family. A confectionary connoisseur may indulge in such sweet delights as pink peppercorn, balsamic vinegar or holy habanero. There is a wacky company that thrives on weird and unusual candy flavors. Their latest product, tucked between the onion ring mints and wasabi gumballs, across from the bacon flavored gummies is a bright yellow tin advertising hard candy that tastes just like gravy.

Savory delights aren’t limited to hard candy; they also have invaded chocolate shops. Chocolate is a versatile medium when it comes to experimental flavors. Throw a little chili powder into some melted chocolate and taste the flavor boost. Artisan chocolate shops are thinking beyond the chili powder, which is so last year and are making truffles with tequila and lime, blue cheese or bacon-chipotle-espresso.

Ice cream flavors such as rocky road and cookie dough are considered old school now that the new wave of savory/sweet blends have arrived on the scene. Instead of living it up with boring pistachio, why not try white chocolate/garlic ice cream? Top it off with hot fudge and a cherry, and it’s sure to be quite the conversation piece… maybe not at a close distance though. Homemade ice cream enthusiasts might want to swap out those pecans for some brisket. Using brisket drippings and beef bits infused with the cold sweet cream or maybe some shaved carrot.

Veggies have invaded the yogurt market, too. Some chefs believe the trick to getting kids to eat yogurt is to make it colorful and thicker than ice cream. Could that be the marketing tactic of Blue Hill Yogurt? Offering a variety of veggie based yogurts including carrots, beets, squash, parsnip or sweet potato, one of these flavors may appeal to a child, or maybe one that’s a child at heart.

Some dairy companies are pushing the envelope further still by offering yogurt flavors such as everything bagel; a plain Greek yogurt drizzled with olive oil, onion, garlic and sesame seed. Sounds like a good dip for some crackers. Plain yogurt mixed with cumin make a decent dressing for roasted carrots. How about a bowl of avocado, mango and chili topped with yogurt for a power breakfast?

Carrot cake and gingerbread are two enduring examples of the continuing trend to “spice up” desserts. Both desserts have evolved from medieval origins and are a family favorite in many households around the country. Since culinary arts are all about finding the “next best thing,” there is a definite upswing in finding the savory in traditional desserts. Shortbreads infused with sage, lime and basil or rosemary are starting to emerge. Decadent dark chocolate cake  with black pepper icing is slowly gaining popularity. Some food snobs are throwing caution and health to the wind by indulging in the ultimate savory/sweet combination, the bacon dessert taco: ice cream nestled in a shell of woven bacon strips topped with hot fudge and nuts. Doesn’t that make a heart go pitter patter?

Desserts aren’t always about the baking; fruit plates are getting their own kick in the bowl. Ambrosia has fallen out of favor at modern day BBQs. Instead of the overly sweet fruit salad, foodies are shaking events up by swapping out some of the more common ingredients for a savory flare. Salsa recipes are adding a bit of sweet to counteract the spice. Mangos and peaches are popular among commercial brands. Amateur chefs experiment in the comfort of their home kitchen with watermelon and pineapple salsa blends. Most fruit absorb flavors well, making them perfect for herbal blends.

Salt and tequila go hand in hand like peanut butter and bananas. Often used to coat the rim of a margarita glass, salt adds a unique taste when blended with the other ingredients. This “savory” cocktail is a societal norm, especially during the heat of the summer. For those not fans of tequila, but still yearn for a drink that has a perfect blend of salty sweetness, people order a cooling Salty Dog. The simple drink is nothing more than blending grapefruit juice and vodka or gin with a salted rim. Some Salty Dog fans experiment with using flavored vodkas to give the drink a bit of a twist.

Who would have thought to put pineapple or blackberries in grilled cheese? The tartness of the cheese and the sweetness of the fruit make an appealing blend. Or you can combine apples, cranberries and cheddar cheese for filling turnovers. The combination creates a sweet, tart tang; taste buds sit up and take notice. Mixing scallions, blue cheese and blueberries for a cracker spread is an interesting, not entirely unpleasant integration of flavors. Chocolate pasta is available at some of the smaller food stores as well as some farmers’ markets. Slightly sweeter than regular pasta, it offers a great base for fruit salsa.

Up for a little adventure in the world of savory/sweetness? Try the Brew on Main Street in Longmont. They serve up a variety of crepes suited for anyone’s palate. Several local grocers carry the Chocolove bars. The Chocolove factory is Boulder-based and churns out some unique blends such as orange peel in dark chocolate or cherries and chilies in dark chocolate. Rocket Fizz on Pearl Street carries a wide variety of candy from retro to the obscure.

For decades mothers around the country have said dinner first, then dessert. Today, with so many flavor combinations, it is possible to have your savory cake and eat it too. Until a mashed potato lollipop is invented, however, the gravy candy will remain sealed in its bright yellow tin.

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