CHICAGO — As the conversation around the spicy flavor trend continues to evolve, many of the applications that are emerging focus on a premium positioning. Heat for heat’s sake is passé, and product developers are seeking new opportunities to enhance the consumer’s experience and introduce new flavor combinations.
“The desire for foods with a spicy component is continuing, but the preferences are becoming more refined,” said Lacey Eckert, market development specialist with Kalsec, Inc., Kalamazoo, Mich. “It’s not just about how hot something is. Consumers want specificity, authenticity and nuance of the flavor profile. Food manufacturers have to keep it interesting.”
At the same time, food manufacturers want repeat sales and are looking for flavors that will resonate with consumers in the same manner as sriracha.
“Gochujang and harissa are among the sauces most cited as ‘the next possible sriracha,’” Ms. Eckert said. “They combine the trends of heat with the popularity of an ethnic profile. Gochujang represents Asia and harissa hales from North Africa.
“Also, (one) to watch is the spicy Middle Eastern condiment shkug, a combination of cilantro and jalapeños with other spices, and Sambal, another Asian sauce incorporating chilies. The success of sriracha was a bit of a perfect storm. It rose to the top during the surge in popularity of all things spicy, but it also offered the something extra in flavor profile and ethnic interest that consumers were looking for.”
When consumers dine out they want to see hot, garlic and spicy flavors and foods on menus, according to the market research company The NPD Group, Chicago. Data from NPD’s SupplyTrack service, which tracks products shipped from broadline distributors to food service customers, show that dollar sales of all spices and seasonings increased 7% versus year ago in the year ended March 31, 2017. Among the top growing spices and seasonings being shipped were curries, examples of which are tikka masala and yellow curry, which grew by 11%, and chili peppers, like aleppo and habanero, which grew by 12%.
At the consumer’s home there is a rise in homemade Asian and Hispanic dishes and the use of more flavorful items like chili peppers, NPD said. Mainstream Asian flavors include fish sauce, doenjang, garlic chives, ginger and lapsang souchong. When it comes to Hispanic flavors jalapeño, habanero, ghost pepper, and mole negro have become mainstream.
“The growing Asian and Hispanic populations in the U.S. have introduced new flavors into the American diet and many of these flavors are now mainstays in our kitchens and on menus,” said Ann Roberts, vice-president of NPD’s SupplyTrack service. “There are also new flavors and flavor profiles emerging and growing, which makes it important for distributors, manufacturers, and food service operators to understand the impact of ethnic cultures and their related flavors in order to recognize growth opportunities.”
Roger Lane, marketing manager of savory flavors for Sensient Flavors, based in Hoffman Estates, Ill., said, “We’ve also seen a premiumization in the sweet/heat flavor trend. Again, this trend has been around for quite some time, but we’re seeing it combine in a more global way.
“We’re now seeing Mexican chilies combined with agave, Indian chilies being combined with maple syrup, and Middle Eastern flavors being combined with honey. All of these can be easily accomplished and added to a product by compounding the flavors together to create a ‘one stop shop’ solution.”
Consumer interest in global cuisines is being driven by younger consumers, specifically millennials and the emerging Gen Z population.
“Members of Gen Z have grown up in a world that has always been connected and multicultural so, for them, there is no such thing as ethnic cuisine,” Mr. Lane said. “It’s just ‘cuisine.’ They’re also much more adventurous in their choices and crave uniqueness.
“I think this is going to lead to a larger push for fusion across all cuisine types. Why not create a burrito made from Middle Eastern seasoned meat, with Korean pickled vegetables and a pepper sauce from South America?”
He added that a variety of chilies are starting to appear on restaurant menus throughout the United States, including aji panca from Peru, cascabel from Mexico, urfa chile from Turkey, and the Hatch green chile from New Mexico.
“Each of these chilies has a unique flavor profile so it’s difficult to say how each of them work in combination with other ingredients as a whole, but typically adding a creamy or cheesy note works well to temper the heat or adding a sweet note to balance their harsher notes works well,” Mr. Lane said.
Scott Walnofer, senior director of culinary for Kerry, Beloit, Wis., said, “The rise in the use of specialty peppers is playing a big role in the new generation of dressings, marinades and sauces. Many of these peppers impart actual flavor rather than just heat such as the guajillo chili, which has dark berry notes, the chocolate habanero, which has citrus fruit notes, and the aji pepper, which has a sweet flavor profile somewhere between a cooked mango and an apricot.”
Whether it is flavors like sriracha or pumpkin spice, product developers always are seeking the next flavor profile that expands rapidly into a wide variety of applications. Spicy flavors that have potential may be found in the Middle East, South America and Asia.
“Zhug, from the Middle East, is probably one of the hottest (trend-wise) sauces around,” Mr. Lane said. “It definitely has a very spicy kick, but it’s very well rounded due to the amount of herbs that are also part of the recipe. It’s incredibly versatile and can be used as a spread on sandwiches, but works well with all different types of meats, especially grilled.
“Ssam sauce has been around for quite a while, but I think it’s due for a resurgence due to the continued popularity of Korean food and fermentation flavors overall. It’s a fairly simple sauce — just ssamjang, gochujang, vinegar and oil, but it’s incredibly rich in flavor. Perfect to cut the richness of roasted meat.”
Sambal, a hot sauce or paste with origins in Southeast Asia and made from a variety of chili peppers with secondary ingredients like fish sauce, ginger, garlic and sugar, is quickly becoming the new sriracha sauce, said Mark McCammick, research and development innovation chef with Kerry.
A variety of spicy flavors are trending, said Christopher Warsow, manager of culinary applications for Bell Flavors and Fragrances, Northbrook, Ill.
“Sweet with heat is always a great combination,” Mr. Warsow said.
What will continue to drive the spicy flavor trend is sustained consumer interest in new food experiences. The NPD Group said the trend will be buoyed by the fact that 75% of U.S. adults, especially young adults, are open to trying new foods.