It wasn’t that long ago that chipotle peppers started to dominate the market for spicy dishes, showing up not only in traditional fare like chili and tacos but branching into soup, hummus, sandwich spreads, pizza, and even desserts like cookies, cupcakes, toffee, and hot cocoa. Today, chipotle seasoning is so well-known it’s practically old hat.
With that being said, the last few years have seen a surge in demand for new and exotic spices from around the world, with many Americans becoming more adventurous in terms of the level of spice they’re willing to try and learn to tolerate.
Which spices and blends are trending now, and how can the food industry incorporate them for adventurous and tentative diners alike?
Ranging from about 1,000 to 2,500 Scoville heat units (SHUs), sriracha peppers are considered relatively mild.
Perhaps this is why sriracha has enjoyed such a surge in popularity over the past few years, with options like straight sriracha sauce, sriracha ketchup, and spicy sriracha mayonnaise showing up in restaurants and on grocery store shelves everywhere.
These days, sriracha is not only available in sauces and spreads but in mac and cheese, ice cream, beverages like Bloody Marys, and even sriracha salt.
This chili pepper ranges from about 1,000 to 1,500 SHU but packs a ton of unique, smoky flavor, especially when roasted.
It should come as no surprise, then, that it’s become a popular addition to a diverse range of dishes, from traditional soups, stews, salsas, and chili, to marinades and meat rubs, seafood dishes, and American classics like grilled cheese or mac and cheese.
Pineapple ancho chili flavoring is also gaining popularity thanks to complementary sweet and mildly spicy notes.
This North African pepper paste, consisting of roasted red peppers, Baklouti peppers, olive oil, garlic, caraway, coriander, and perhaps other spices, is currently on everyone’s radar as the “it” spice of 2022.
The Baklouti pepper can range from about 1,000 to 5,000 SHU, which is still considered mild, and it has a sweet, almost fruity flavor that lends itself well to all kinds of dishes.
Harissa is commonly served with stews and bread, but it also works great as a surprising burger or sandwich spread, a sauce for pasta or grilled veggies, or an interesting take on chicken wings, for example.
Hot honey has been showing up everywhere lately, including high-end charcuterie boards, drizzles for fried chicken, pizza, and French toast, an additive for lattes, and more.
The real beauty of hot honey, which is essentially just pepper-infused honey, is that it can be made for any heat preference, with options ranging from mild red chilies to habanero or even scorpion peppers.
Habanero, Ghost Pepper, and Carolina Reaper
While not incredibly popular, for obvious reasons (SHU ratings ranging from roughly 100,000 to 2.2 million), these peppers are finding a niche in the food market lately as some diners move past ancho, jalapeño, and cayenne and seek something more gastronomically thrilling.
Some of these flavor profiles have shown up in mainstream snacks like chips or on menus at fried chicken joints.
Paqui is notable for “One Chip Challenge” snacks, but even brands like Tostitos and Kettle have come out with habanero chips. Some chicken restaurants offer spice options that run the gamut of the Scoville scale, with release forms for good measure.
It’s not for everyone, but there seems to be enough consumer interest in exploring high-heat spices to warrant serious retail consideration.
Preferred spice levels and flavors are particular to individual consumers, but some of the milder chilies have become so mainstream that the challenge these days is finding truly innovative ways to incorporate them into restaurant fare and manufactured foods.
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