Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Flavor & The Menu
July 11, 2023

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Today’s diners are embracing heat in unexpected and unconventional menu applications, from salad dressings and soups to cocktails and desserts—welcoming a range of heat levels from mild to fiery hot! But it’s not all about the number on the Scoville scale. Customers desire a quality of heat that demonstrates dimension and nuance. Chefs find this complexity in the Mexican flavor pantry, and it is surely a factor in the rising popularity of authentically inspired Mexican cuisine.

Leveraging the value of these flavors and replicating them are two very different pursuits, however, especially within the restrictions of most commercial kitchens today. Dried peppers are typically at the heart of multi-layered flavors in Mexican cooking, but they are prohibitively labor intensive to work with regularly in a fast-paced foodservice operation, requiring hours of de-seeding, stem removal, toasting, rehydrating, dicing and puréeing.

Enter a turnkey product solution that strips away the labor burden, opening wide the opportunity for menu innovation. TRES COCINAS® Authentic Pepper Pastes from MegaMex Foods is a ready-to-use line of one-step flavor enhancers that change the game with a simple squeeze.

TRES COCINAS® Authentic Pepper Pastes are made with dried chiles and simple ingredients and are available in three varieties: Ancho & Pasilla, Guajillo and Chipotle with Adobo. Each is packaged in a 7-oz. shelf-stable pouch for unparalleled ease in kitchen prep, giving chefs the means and the confidence to elevate menu favorites, explore new applications, develop differentiation—and do it all with an expectation of consistency and quality.

Depth and Dimension

Foodservice operators have shown themselves eager to seize the advantages of the ever-expanding Mexican flavor trend. “You’re seeing greater interest in taking authentic Mexican flavors and moving them into the mainstream in ways that customers find familiar yet intriguing,” says Dan Burrows, Consulting Chef for MegaMex Foods, citing a spicy ranch salad dressing as a particularly easy way to produce a menu signature with maximum flavor impact, but minimal kitchen impact.

“Chiles are particularly hot right now,” says Burrows, acknowledging the pun. “So chefs are using more fresh chiles, because they are easy to chop and go. But then they aren’t getting the concentrated, nuanced flavors that come only from the drying process.” As example, Burrows points to the poblano. “When you dry a poblano, it becomes an ancho, and its fruity notes come out, plus a hint of dried tomato flavors, plus some bitter tobacco. All the taste senses—sweet, salty, sour, etc.—are rounded into one ingredient,” he says. It’s going to deliver a much different flavor experience.

TRES COCINAS® Authentic Pepper Pastes use some of the most common chile peppers in Mexican cooking, each delivering distinctive flavor and heat levels when used alone and in combination. This spectrum presents a long runway for menu development, especially when chefs understand the flavor attributes at work.

In this Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich, TRES COCINAS® Ancho & Pasilla Authentic Pepper Pastes adds a gentle kick to a spicy mayo, while the buttermilk marinade used for the chicken gets a bold infusion of flavor from TRES COCINAS® Guajillo Authentic Pepper Paste.

Ancho & Pasilla

The dried version of the somewhat large poblano, the ancho has a fairly mild heat level, and the sophisticated palate can detect fruity notes similar to raisins and cherries, along with a hint of sun-dried tomatoes and a tobacco woodiness that Burrows equates to “a good red wine that has a back hit from the fruit being mixed with oak.” An ancho mac and cheese would be a good pair, he suggests.

The pasilla has a thinner skin, says Burrows, so it’s not often used fresh. And while it delivers slightly more heat than the ancho, it’s “not enough to blow you away.” Anchos and pasillas in combination produce a balance between sweet and earthy—think of the union of bitter chocolate and cherries, advises Burrows. The two also share a long history starring in moles and salsas, but looking forward, Burrows would add a squeeze of TRES COCINAS® Ancho & Pasilla Authentic Pepper Paste to caramelized onions for a sweet-spicy sandwich topping.

TRES COCINAS® Guajillo Authentic Pepper Paste is added to honey for a sweet-spicy glaze brushed onto Pork Ribs. Serve with mashed potatoes that have been mixed with TRES COCINAS® Chipotle with Adobo Authentic Pepper Paste.


According to Burrows, the guajillo pepper—almost always used dried and then puréed—produces a nice, even heat. “It has a smoky flavor, not from actual smoking per se, but just from the drying process. Sun-dried tomato comparisons are even stronger here, delivering a little sweetness, but a little more acid, too. It’s really concentrated flavor,” he says. “It’s the sweet spot for heat, fruit and smoke levels.”

The guajillo, “a super versatile pepper,” is well-suited to a long list of potential applications, says Burrows, citing just a handful of examples, including marinades, tinga sauce, al pastor and ranch dressing. “It’s good in a lot of bar applications, too,” he says, musing on sangria, chile beer and the bloody Mary.

Elevate your Chicken Flatbread by first adding TRES COCINAS® Chipotle with Adobo Authentic Pepper Paste to the marinade and then adding a drizzle of mayonnaise infused with lime and TRES COCINAS® Guajillo Authentic Pepper Paste.

Chipotle in Adobo Sauce

When your customers want you to turn up the heat, this is the pepper paste to grab. A chipotle is a mature, dried and smoked jalapeño, the smallest pepper in the TRES COCINAS® line-up. “You’re going to get smoky notes, of course, and a leathery, tobacco, tomato lift,” says Burrows. As for the adobo, he characterizes it as delivering a “different” heat, one that balances the chipotle. “Together, it works well because it’s hot, but accessible. It has a lot of flavor and is a combination that really has those Mexican roots,” he says.

Chipotle mayonnaise, in particular, has taken off in popularity and is a natural application for the pepper paste. “Everyone uses it on a burger, a turkey sandwich or a dip for crudite,” says Burrows. “But a new variation to try is to use chipotle mayonnaise as a cooking mechanism. For example, spread it on the bread instead of butter for a grilled cheese, where it will produce a craveable heat on the outside of the sandwich.

Inspiration for all three products knows no bounds—and is all around. Burrows muses on creating an ancho-and-pasilla leather by spreading the pepper paste across a silpat and slow cooking. He’d crumble the leather and add it to a drink or a dessert or even guacamole, where the avocado can tame the heat a bit.

Regardless of where you find inspiration, you can trust that TRES COCINAS® Authentic Pepper Pastes are the real deal, simplified, without any compromise in quality of flavor or integrity of purpose. “Everyone is looking to add heat to recipes today,” says Burrows. “But with this product, the heat is an element of flavor, not a gimmick.”

To request a sample or learn more, click here to visit the MegaMex Foodservice website.

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