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Sriracha 2.0: Up-and-coming hot sauces and peppers adding heat to menus today

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

(Photo: Flickr user Au Kirk)

It’s safe to say that Sriracha, the Thai garlic and chili sauce, is everywhere. Panda Express has Sriracha shrimp, Bruegger’s Bagels has a Sriracha breakfast sandwich, and Subway has an entire “Fiery Footlong” collection featuring Sriracha. In just this year alone major chain restaurants have added Sriracha to pizzas, wings, sandwiches, salads, and more. Now you can even dip Sriracha Pringles in Dean’s Sriracha chili dip and wash it all done with UV’s sriracha vodka.

But as Sriracha continues to grow (it’s up 80% on restaurant menus in the past year alone), it begs the question — what’s the next Sriracha? What are the spicy flavors and hot sauces cutting-edge chefs are using to heat up their dishes? And will those ingredients move through the trend cycle, adopted by fast casuals, QSRs and retail?

We looked at MenuTrends, Datassential‘s menu database, and our complete line of TrendSpotting Reports to find the hot flavors that have been growing on menus in recent years, or that are just beginning to appear on innovative, adventurous menus. Could these be the next trend in spice and heat — Sriracha 2.0, if you will?

Gochujang: Gochujang, with its flavors of tangy, sweet, and spicy from fermented soybean powder, salt, red pepper, and rice, is traditionally used on bibimbap, roasted meats, seafoods, soups, and stews, but progressive chefs are adding it to burgers, sandwiches, and on-trend ethnic mash-ups like Korean tacos.

Harissa: This complex chili pepper paste, sometimes called the “ketchup of North Africa,” is made with a blend of hot peppers, oil, and spices. It can be used as both a condiment and flavor enhancer, spicing up everything from pizza to stews and curries. Harissa is up 114% at restaurants over the past four years.

Togarashi: Part of the “amped up Asian” trend, where chefs like David Chang update traditional Asian dishes with more in-your-face flavors, Japanese spice blends like shichimi togarashi (or “seven spice”) combine chili peppers with bright citrus peels, crunchy sesame seeds, and umami-rich ingredients like nori to add spice and crunch to vegetables, noodles, seafood, and even French fries and popcorn.

Shishito peppers: The sweet, mild flavor of Japan’s shishito peppers have been slowly trending on menus for the last few years — a bowl of blistered shishito peppers is an on-trend appetizer at many casual restaurants run by serious chefs.

Habanero/Serrano: Two of the fastest growing peppers on menus, these peppers can up the heat ante on menus, whether a little (serranos often rate just above jalapenos on the “Scoville” heat rating system) or a lot (habaneros are one of the hottest peppers readily available, and are usually tempered with a sweet or creamy addition).

Ghost Pepper: Over 40% of consumers are already aware of ghost peppers, likely due to their exposure on extreme eating shows like “Man vs. Food.” Though their extreme heat may limit their adoption, some operators could use them to create attention-getting “stunt foods,” like Red Robin’s “Fiery Ghost Style Tavern Burger,” topped with a ghost pepper sauce, introduced in 2012.

Sweet Chili: With savory and sweet flavors trending on restaurant menus (think chicken and waffles), sauces that blend sweetness with spice are showing up at more restaurants — sweet chili sauce is up 69% at operators over four years ago. Look for more combo flavors in the future — honey habanero, red pepper jelly, plum sriracha (found in a “Tiki Dipping Sauce” introduced by Joe’s Crab Shack earlier this year).

Spicy Mayos/Aiolis: Many restaurants have tempered the heat of sriracha by combining it with mayonnaise or aoli, creating a creamy sauce with a kick. In fact, spicy aiolis are one of the fastest growing hot flavors on menus today, while spicy mayos are up 70% at restaurants over 4 years ago, — a trend that could jump to retail as more brands like Miracle Whip add flavored mayonnaise to the product line.

As you can see, many of these hot sauce and pepper trends coincide with related, larger trends within the industry — trending ethnic cuisines like Brazilian and Peruvian (where the aji amarillo pepper is ubiquitous), ethnic mash-ups, sweet and savory dishes, stunt foods, and an overall “premium-ization” trend in which traditional favorites, from burgers to pizza, are amped up and customized with innovative sauces and toppings. And with the heat craze showing no signs of slowing down, you can be sure more of these spicy flavors will be showing up on menus in the future.

Maeve Webster is the senior director of Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. For more information about the MenuTrends Food Truck Database, the complete line of TrendSpotting Reports or any of the content found in this report, contact Webster at [email protected].