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Sriracha’s spark kicked off consumer craze for hot and spicy flavors

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

(Photo: Marissa Garza/Flickr)

It may have started with sriracha, but the demand for hot and spicy flavors in restaurants and supermarkets continues to grow as consumers demand more heat from a wider variety of sources. Chili peppers and spices from cayenne to cinnamon are bringing the heat to a range of foods and beverages, including main courses, snacks and even alcohol.

Jalapeno is the most popular spicy pepper on menus, followed by chipotle, according to Datassential MenuTrends. The market researcher found that operators are seeking to make spicy flavors more approachable by adding heat to a traditional, non-spicy sauce such as mayonnaise, ranch, vinaigrette or aioli.

Beverage makers are burning out a niche with spicy drinks in both the alcoholic and soft drink categories. Non-alcoholic options are mainly juices that tout the functional benefits of spices such as cinnamon and turmeric. Cayenne, which gained popularity as a beverage ingredient thanks to cleanse-focused drinks, is now showing up in products that highlight its spicy flavor rather than its metabolism-boosting properties. Mamma Chia recently launched a line of Chia & Greens beverages that includes a cayenne variety, and Hint included a cayenne and lemon flavor in its new Hint Kick line of caffeinated waters, BevNet reported last month.

In US bars and liquor stores, the huge popularity of Fireball cinnamon-flavored whiskey has given way to other cinnamon liquors as well as spicier spirits that get their kick from chili peppers, the Wall Street Journal reported. Rogue rolled out a chipotle whiskey and Jim Beam is fighting Fireball with fire with its own cinnamon-infused Kentucky Fire.

This quest for heat goes hand-in-hand with consumers’ growing familiarity and sense of adventure concerning global cuisines, which often pack a much spicier punch than typical American fare. A recent survey by the National Restaurant Association found that 17% of consumers report eating seven or more cuisines on a monthly basis, and two-thirds eat a wider variety of ethnic cuisines now than they did five years ago. Italian, Mexican and Chinese are the top three cuisines in terms of familiarity, trial and frequency of eating, but Thai, Vietnamese and Southeast Asian are also gaining popularity with American diners.

Technomic named spicy flavors among its 10 top trend predictions for 2016, dubbing their surge in populairty “the sriracha effect.” The food research and consulting firm predicted that chefs will look to branch out from the ubiquitous chili sauce with other global ingredients such as ghost pepper from India; sambal from Southeast Asia; gochujang from Korea; and harissa, sumac and dukka from North Africa.

How is the spicy trend impacting your menu or product line? Tell us about it in the comments.


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