Whether you like crispy snacks, glazed hams, or saucy stir-fries, you can't deny the enduring allure of sweet and spicy dishes. The subtle balance of flavors, when you get it right, is so lip-smackingly harmonious that it takes the umami appeal sky-high. And rather than requiring difficult-to-source ingredients, you can create a whole world of contrasting and complementary tastes with a few staples that you probably have at home already.
Biting into a sweet-tasting savory dish or sweet treat is great enough. Adding some spiciness into the mix to tackle your senses transforms the taste, whether you're chowing down on an American classic or trying out some flavorful Asian-inspired stir-fries. Grab some sugar, honey, chili flakes, and jalapeños, and you can enjoy appetizers, entrees, desserts, and even drinks.
Spice up your life and keep the sweetness in the mix with these sweet and spicy recipes that make the best combinations.
Read more: 41 Must Try Hot Sandwich Recipes
Sweet And Spicy Air Fryer Salmon Bites
Can you really go wrong with a soy sauce, gochujang, honey, and garlic marinade? The flavors are intensely wonderful. Add to that a crunchy panko crust with everything bagel seasoning and air-fry so that they are soft inside. Use sriracha hot sauce if you can't source the Korean ingredient in this.
Top with an extra serving of sweet and spice with a drizzle of honey and chili crunch. Serve these salmon bites with a sour pickled vegetable side and rice to balance out all that flavor.
Sweet And Spicy Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Tenders
Cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, and chili powder bring the spice for these must-try chicken tenders. Brown sugar delivers the sweetness, with bacon wrapping it all together with a salty moreish taste.
After spicing up the chicken, half-cook the bacon so that you can still wrap a slice around each of the tenders. Coat each piece in the sugar before baking in the oven so that it caramelizes. These easy-to-make bites are great snacks straight out of the oven or served as a main course with a vegetable side.
Spiced Hot Chocolate
When it's cold outside, or you just need a sweet hug in a mug, hot chocolate is the best. You can elevate it with whipped cream and marshmallows for a more decadent drink. But how about giving that sweetness some spice for more warmth inside?
Make this hot drink favorite with chocolate chips, and add extra sugar for a sweeter flavor, or pour in honey or maple syrup instead. For a delicious kick that enhances the sugary taste, add cinnamon, nutmeg, chili powder, and a little booze if you like.
Recipe: Spiced Hot Chocolate
Sweet And Tangy Bourbon Chicken
If you like a mild sweet and a spicy tang, you have to try this bourbon chicken, which has a subtle, smoky flavor. Coat chicken pieces in cayenne pepper and paprika for a little fire, and opt for smoked paprika for more depth.
For the sweet bourbon sauce combine brown sugar and honey with ground ginger, rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, plus soy sauce to enhance the sweetness with a salty backdrop. You'll also need a good slosh of alcohol, which adds sweet caramel and vanilla notes.
Recipe: Sweet And Tangy Bourbon Chicken
Sweet And Spicy Pork Stir-Fry
Asian recipes often balance sweet and spicy ingredients, adding sour and salty tastes into the flavor profile of dishes, too. What you're going to love about this pork stir-fry is that it's a quick weekday dinner that tastes bold and also packs in colorful veggies.
Marinate pork tenderloin strips in soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, and chili paste. Use extra amounts of that mixture to stir in and simmer for a couple of minutes at the end to give the dish a sauce. Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds. Recipe: Sweet And Spicy Pork Stir-Fry
Sweet And Sour Sauce
You might want to make some delicious egg rolls before you get started on this sweet-and-sour sauce recipe. They are amazing when dipped in the sauce. Or use the sauce to transform meat and veggie dishes in an instant, such as with a spicy stir-fry.
To reduce the sweetness, add unsweetened pineapple juice to brown sugar and ketchup. Adding more or less rice vinegar and soy plays around with the overarching taste, and there aren't any fixed rules. While you're not going to get any real spice, adding fresh ginger brings a lovely warming quality.
Recipe: Sweet And Sour Sauce
Honey Baked Ham Copycat
A list of sweet and spicy recipes has to include a salty baked ham. A honey, butter, and brown sugar glaze creates a caramelized crust that's sweet and crunchy. And you haven't even got to the spicy part. Start by covering the spiral ham with honey, butter, and Dijon mustard for a blast of tangy heat.
Add some spiced warmth to the glaze with cinnamon, ginger, ground cloves, and paprika, with garlic powder enhancing the savory element. Baste the top and sides twice so that the glaze sets in the oven.
Recipe: Honey Baked Ham Copycat
Baked Trout With Sweet Chili Sauce
Trout is a delicate, subtle-tasting fish that's a welcome change from salmon. A sweet chili sauce transforms the fillets in this simple recipe. Using certain ingredients together in a glaze brings out just the right amount of sweetness and spiciness. You can use other types of fish, too.
Add chili powder and cumin to olive oil and soy sauce. Sweeten with honey. Enhance the flavors with lime zest and lime juice as well as garlic. The flavorful fish pairs well with baby potatoes and fresh steamed greens.
One-Pot Sweet Potato Curry
You don't always have to be mixing marinades, sauces, and glazes to create a sweet and sour flavor. Sweet potatoes simmer away to give this meat-free curry recipe a wonderfully natural sweetness.
Curry powder is the perfect contrast, with garlic, red onion, and freshly grated ginger boosting the aromatics. As with many sweet and spicy dishes, other ingredients enhance the depth and balance. For this dish, coconut milk adds a creaminess to the heat while tomatoes as well as lime zest and juice create an acidic element.
Recipe: One-Pot Sweet Potato Curry
Homemade Sweet And Sour Chicken
Rather than eating takeout, make a home-cooked fakeout with a sweet and sour chicken dish. Because you're making this yourself, you can control how sweet or tangy the dish is. It's perfect for those who like a hint of spice but prefer sweetness.
Make the sauce with brown sugar, pineapple juice, and ketchup and offset with the sourness of apple cider vinegar. Mix in minced garlic and soy sauce. Add heat with ginger, bell peppers, and onions before sweetening with pineapple pieces. Cover fried chicken pieces with the sauce and serve with rice.
Recipe: Homemade Sweet And Sour Chicken
Sweet, Spicy, And Tangy Chamoy
Chamoy is the ultimate sweet, spicy, and tangy condiment that's a must-have if you love Mexican food. Made with fruit and spices, this sauce can easily be whizzed up with a saucepan, blender, and a sieve to strain everything. Dried hibiscus flowers, dried apricots, and prunes inspire a unique sweetness. Simmer these with dried chilis such as chile de árbol for heat.
Boost the sweet and spicy taste by mixing in sugar and chili powder. Enhance with lime juice and salt, and puree before taking out all the pulp.
Recipe: Sweet, Spicy, And Tangy Chamoy
Sweet And Spicy Southern Sticky Chicken
Sweet and spicy Southern sticky chicken sounds as mouthwatering as it tastes. All you need to do is make a marinade, pour it over chicken pieces, and then bake and broil. Combine the sweetness of honey and ketchup with the spice of smoked paprika, gochujang, and Worcestershire sauce. Complete with minced garlic and soy sauce.
The marinade will work its magic caramelizing in the oven. But you can't rush perfection. You'll need to marinate the meat in the fridge for at least eight hours before cooking.
Baked Cajun Sweet Potato Fries
If you've never tried sweet potato fries, then you are seriously missing out. The starchy sweetness is sublime, and the fries boast plenty of health benefits, too. There's no need to sweeten these baked fries up.
What takes them to the next level are the spicy additions. Cut the unpeeled sweet potatoes into wedges so they're not too thin, and toss them in extra virgin olive oil with Cajun seasoning, paprika, and salt. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for perfection. Can you imagine these with a creamy dip?
Recipe: Baked Cajun Sweet Potato Fries
Sweet Chili Sauce
If there's one condiment you need on the side with fried or crunchy baked chicken wings, it's a sweet chili sauce. The two are meant to be. The sauce takes minutes to make, so y'all have no reason not to make this.
Heat rice wine vinegar with sugar and crushed red pepper, plus garlic and salt. Simmer for five minutes, and add a cornstarch slurry to thicken it. To make a dip, add the sauce to cream cheese. Or why not use it as a marinade for your next sweet and spicy dish?
Recipe: Sweet Chili Sauce
Roasted Sweet Potato And Black Bean Tacos
Roasting sweet potatoes brings out the natural sugars in the starch. And they translate into strikingly good tacos that are an appetizing change from meat-laden fillings. If you're wondering where the spice is in all of this, then you're going to add spicy black beans, too. Sauté these with diced onion along with cumin, chili powder, and paprika. Onion powder, garlic powder, and salt lift the flavor, too.
Go with whatever toppings you like. You can't go wrong with guac, salsa, and sour cream.
Refreshing Spicy Margarita
Sugar and spice are all things nice when you mix this flavor contrast with tequila. If a spicy margarita doesn't get your attention, what will? Agave nectar and orange liqueur are wonderfully sweet, and lime juice adds a citrusy blast. Slices of jalapeño in the cocktail shaker bring the heat.
You've heard of a lemon, lime, and orange slice garnish as well as a mint, strawberry, and cucumber one. But what about jalapeño? After a few drinks, you might have the Dutch courage to chomp on it as a post-cocktail snack.
Recipe: Refreshing Spicy Margarita
Easy Air Fryer Sticky Wing
One of the easiest sweet and spicy recipes is chicken wings that are covered with a sticky sweet and spicy sauce. It's a classic pairing, especially in Thailand, so if you can get ahold of Mae Ploy Sweet Chilli Sauce for this snack favorite, then do. You might prefer to make your own.
Separate the flats from the drumette part of the wings. Rather than deep fry, cook them in an air fryer. Dry the chicken, season with salt and black pepper, and cover with sauce for delicious results.
Recipe: Easy Air Fryer Sticky Wing
Warm And Spicy Chai Tea
If you can't go long without a spiced hot drink, then you need to broaden your choices. Add warm and spicy chai tea as one of your go-to beverages when you're seeking comfort in a cup. Once you've made the spiced mix, keep it for future brews.
Crush cardamom seeds, cloves, and black peppercorns. Add to milk and water, and bring to the boil with a piece of ginger and cinnamon sticks. Steep black tea bags for 10 minutes. Sweeten the taste by stirring in honey and vanilla.
Recipe: Warm And Spicy Chai Tea
Sweet And Spicy Pepper Jelly
While this sweet and spicy pepper jelly is quick to make, you'll need to wait 12 hours for it to set in the fridge. If you can heat white vinegar and sugar with pectin in a saucepan, then you can make this condiment. Red and orange bell peppers look pretty and define the taste, with diced jalapeños raising the bar.
Enjoy the spread over cream cheese on toast for an unforgettable snack. Or use the condiment to jazz up burgers and stir-fries. It's also great as a chicken-wing marinade.
Recipe: Sweet And Spicy Pepper Jelly
Healthy Sweet Potato Quesadillas
Not all sweet dishes have to be decadent or guilt-inducing. Sweet potatoes create a healthier quesadilla option with a filling that promises a subtle sweetness. And what makes it lovely and fluffy is roasting the potatoes before blending them in the food processor with garbanzo beans.
For the spiciness, feel free to vary the amount of cumin and sriracha hot sauce you add to the blend. Don't forget the salt, as it enhances both the sweet and spicy notes. Pan-fry tortillas with this filling between them, and add slices of avocado.
Recipe: Healthy Sweet Potato Quesadillas
Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes
Spicy chocolate cupcakes are da bomb, no doubt about that. If you love Mexican hot chocolate, then you're going to fall hard for this sweet treat. Add cayenne pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon to the heavy cream cake mix. The contrasting ingredients come together during baking and ensure that the chocolatey sponge isn't too sweet. The kick is pretty gentle, too, so there's no denying this is a dessert.
Sprinkle more cayenne atop the creamy frosting, and add a cinnamon stick for decoration and mini marshmallows because you can.
Recipe: Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes
5-Ingredient Brown Sugar Glazed Salmon
Salmon fillets work well with sweet and spicy glazes, and there's a subtle sweetness to this fish, too. For a flavorful, weekday-friendly dinner, you don't need many ingredients. But you do need the right ones.
Mix brown sugar with mustard and black pepper for a simple sweet and spicy hit. Add soy sauce to create a saucy marinade and enhance the flavor with salty umami notes. Bake in the oven so the fish reaches a temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Serve with green beans and a lemon wedge.Recipe: 5-Ingredient Brown Sugar Glazed Salmon
Sweet Spiced Chicken Mulligatawny Soup
Even the thought of chicken soup is nourishing psychologically. And taste-wise, the flavors that permeate this Indian-inspired sweet spiced mulligatawny soup bring warmth. This is a curried basmati rice broth, so it's no surprise that you add curry powder to make a brimming bowl of comfort food.
Smoked paprika and ginger bring extra depth, too. But what about the sweetness? Tiny pieces of a green apple create a sweet and tangy taste, and garlic enhances the fragrance. Shred the chicken so that the soup coats more of the meat.
Chewy Molasses Spice Cookie
The last type of food where you might expect to find a touch of spice is in a cookie. But it makes sense, right? And it gives these sweet treats a grown-up taste, which beats some of the over-sugary cookies out there. But you can add frosting and sprinkles to appease your inner child.
Make them with dark molasses, which isn't as sweet as the lighter variety. And the spice? You've got to have cinnamon, ground ginger, and nutmeg plus ground cloves to get the right balance of gentle spiciness.
Recipe: Chewy Molasses Spice Cookie
Instant Pot Japanese Curry
Japanese curry is unlike any other. It unashamedly embraces its sweet side. But don't be fooled. While the spiciness isn't overpowering, you'll still get a good enough amount of spicy kickback after every mouthful.
Caramelized yellow onions are sweet-inducing as are carrots and the curry mix recommended for this recipe. Ginger and garlic support the other ingredients with warmth and aromatic sweetness as everything simmers away in your Instant Pot. Serve this quick-to-make dish that's so different from a Thai or Indian curry with fluffy rice to mop up the sauce.
Recipe: Instant Pot Japanese Curry
3-Ingredient Stir Fry Sauce
Having a good stir-fry sauce recipe on hand is invaluable. Before you start envisioning a complex arrangement of carefully balanced ingredients, know that you can make it with just three items: honey, soy sauce, and cornstarch. It's true that it's sweet and salty rather than spicy. However, you can use this sauce to make a sweet and spicy variation. And why wouldn't you?
Add red pepper flakes to counteract the sweetness of the honey and boost the aromatics with green onions and garlic. Ginger is another great ingredient that brings warmth.
Recipe: 3-Ingredient Stir Fry Sauce
Korean BBQ Sauce
If you're wondering what the difference is between American barbecue sauce and Korean, it's essentially that the latter has a little more kick to it. To create the sweet base, use brown sugar, and add caramel notes with coconut sugar.
Sriracha, or another hot sauce, along with red pepper flakes, ginger powder, and black pepper give the sauce its piquancy. To enhance the taste further, you'll need sesame oil, which transforms any Asian recipe, plus rice vinegar, and garlic granules. What about serving this with crispy spring rolls or barbecued meat lettuce wraps?
Recipe: Korean BBQ Sauce
Broiled Sweet Chili Salmon
You owe it to your taste buds to turn simple salmon fillets into flavor bombs of sweetness and spice. Even if you're not a dab hand in the kitchen, nothing is stopping you from creating a simple glaze. Turn on the broiler, and add the fish to a foil-lined baking tray.
Next comes the Asian-inspired glaze. Is it complex? Not really. Just heat sweet chili sauce with soy sauce, lime juice, and minced garlic for five minutes on the stove. Spoon on before broiling the fish and again after cooking.
Recipe: Broiled Sweet Chili Salmon
Crispy Chilli Tofu
It's true that tofu without anything added is pretty bland tasting. But this is its asset because it soaks up all the flavors from other ingredients. To make crispy chilli tofu, coat the bean curd in sesame oil, and then toss it in a homemade sweet chili sauce.
This is where the magic happens as you combine brown sugar and ketchup with chili flakes, along with soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. Garnish with chopped spring onions and sesame seeds, and serve with rice for a quick and easy Asian dish.
Recipe: Crispy Chilli Tofu
Sweet And Spicy Mangonada
Out of all the sweet and spicy recipes that make the best combinations, the most delicious-looking one has to be this sweet and spicy mangonada. The name sounds wild, and the taste is even more fire.
It's essentially a fruity drink rimmed with chamoy and Mexican seasoning. If you don't have Tajín for this, then combine salt with chili powder and lime. Puree mango with sugar and lime juice, plus water. Drizzle on more chamoy after filling each glass half full and put more on top to create a tangy swirl.
Recipe: Sweet And Spicy Mangonada
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