“We are trying to explore interesting things that are out there that people do not know about. We are trying to do things that are not on the market yet and help get a toehold in people's kitchens, on their tables, in their thinking about food and exploring different flavors and cuisines and culture.”
The chili oil explosion meets the clean label trends
Launched over five years ago, Blank Slate Kitchen offers a range of spicy, globally inspired condiments, available online and in-store primarily in the Northeast at Whole Foods and other retailers, Sorenson said. While spicy and bold flavors have been on the rise in the US for years, Sichuan chili oil has been a staple of Chinese cooking for decades and now finding a wider audience globally, Sorenson explained.
"Lao Gan Ma, which is the original chili crisp from China, has been around [since 1983] ... and had been a cult item. I love it. It was one of the things that helped inspire me, and then what you're seeing with a lot of the newer companies is just cleaner labels, domestically produced, [and] higher quality ingredients, not that the original one is bad."
The demand for Sichuan chili oil grew out of longer—and shorter-term trends. The pandemic saw “small restaurants scrambling to figure out how to stay afloat ... and a lot of them started packaging up some of their condiments,” Sorenson said.
And over 50 years the American palate has changed, and the demographic shift are also attributing to the increased demand, Sorenson said. And with this increased demand Sichuan chili oil brands like Fly By Jing and Momofuku have popped on the market with their own take on the spicy condiment, he noted.
While many of these brands are tapping into the clean label and natural trends in the market, Blank Slate Kitchen has “from the beginning ... [has] always done things with whole ingredients, natural ingredients,” which was also an important part of his cooking, Sorenson said.
Though Sorenson would like to go full organic, he admitted that with the dozens of spices that go into the chili oil, it would be difficult from a logistic and cost perspective to make it happen. But to ensure the quality of his products, Sorenson works with food ingredient company 50Hertz to ensure he is “getting the best quality and also ... working with the right farms.”
Will zhug be the next sriracha?
In addition to the chili oil, Blank Slate Kitchen is also looking to bring the Yemenite zhug to a wider audience with its take on the cilantro-flavored hot sauce, Sorenson said. While zhug is not as popular as Sichuan chili oil or other hot sauces yet, Sorenson sees that it has the potential to provide a new culinary twist to consumers looking for bolder flavors.
“[Zhug is] one of those things that I think is going to be within a couple of years a big thing and a lot more cultural awareness of it. It is something that has been on think pieces for a few years, as potentially, the next sriracha, I do not know if it is going to get to that point, but I do think it is a really compelling condiment that people really need to check out.”