The Kalsec HeatSync Heat Indexes follow usage of 34 different peppers using data from Mintel’s Menu Insights and Global New Products Database (GNPD).
In the first six months of 2013, the US index - which evaluates more than 2,400 restaurant food and drink menus - surged 38% compared with the previous six months, while the EU Index - which measures new retail product introductions - increased 26%.
We’re seeing particular interest in Szechuan pepper, which delivers a tingling and numbing sensation in the mouth as well as great citrusy flavors
In the US, jalapeno and cayenne peppers led the strong growth, while in the European market, the sweet chili, piquillo and cayenne peppers showed the strongest increases, Gary Augustine, executive director, market development at Kalsec, told FoodNavigator-USA.
The banana and pepperoncini peppers also contributed to the increased US demand, he said.
“But it’s not just about heat, people are looking for something more complex and flavorful whether it’s in sauces, snacks, dressings, marinades or prepared meals.
“We’re seeing particular interest in Szechuan (Sichuan) pepper, which delivers a tingling and numbing sensation in the mouth as well as great citrusy flavors that are very different from black, white or chili peppers and it’s getting a lot of traction in snacks right now.”
Szechuan peppers are seen as more sophisticated than some other peppers, more premium
While Szechuan peppers are associated with Asian foods, they also have significant potential in Latin American cuisine and other foods, he added.
“It’s seen as more sophisticated than some other peppers, more premium. We’ve also found that when you combine capsicum and Szechuan it suppresses capsicum’s heat so you get a slower burn that is more sustained.”
While snack foods showed the strongest category growth for hot and spicy foods, followed by prepared meals and sauces, manufacturers are increasingly experimenting with hot and spicy flavors in chocolate, desserts, and alcoholic beverages, he said.
“There is a lot of experimentation going on, and people are hearing about things like the ultra-hot Ghost pepper (Bhut Jolokia) on the Food Network or Dr Oz.”
Younger people have been weaned on spicier foods
But it’s also a generational thing, he said: “Younger people have been weaned on spicier foods, while the growth of the Hispanic community is also feeding into the trend for spicier foods.”
The fact that Sriracha (a hot chili paste) emerged as one of the top three flavors in PepsiCo’s ‘Do us a flavor’ competition for Lay's potato chips earlier this year is also a sign of how hot and spicy is becoming more mainstream, he added.
The HeatSync index is named after Kalsec’s HeatSync systems, which are designed to control the timing, intensity and location on the palate of heat (pungency) for specific application requirements, and enable its experts to design the precise hot sensation customers are looking for.