Flavor Trends

Consumers are demanding more sophisticated blends of hot spice and flavor, Kalsec study finds

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Consumers demanding more sophisticated blends of hot spice and flavor
As consumer demand for spicy food increases, it also is evolving beyond that for just eye-watering and mouth-burning heat to include a desire for more complex blends of pungent flavors, a recent survey by Kalsec reveals. 

The Michigan-based flavor and color supplier found 80% of 1,300 U.S. consumers it surveyed in January say they enjoy hot and spicy foods, which includes 20% who say they are eating hotter food than a year ago and 61% who prefer food with medium and high heat.

Not only do people like their food hotter, but they are eating spicy food more often, the survey also revealed. A quarter of survey respondents say they are now eating spicy foods more often than they did last year and 56% eat spicy foods at least  once a week.

But ramping up just the heat is no longer enough to appease the growing number of spice-loving consumers, says Gary Augustine, executive director of market development for Kalsec. “Now consumers want some flavor with their heat as well.”

For example, about two years ago, consumers began gravitating to a sweet heat, such as a honey-chipotle or mango-habenero, which prompted Kalsec to launch its line of Fusionary Heat ingredients, Augustine said. This line also includes hot flavors combined with sour, tangy and savory flavors, such as Horseradish Citrus and Smooth Lime Heat, he said.

More recently, consumers have sought out more subtle flavor differences from a variety of specialty peppers, Augustine said.

“Jalapeno had always been the standard heat product. It was a little milder, but everyone formulated with it. But now you are seeing all different kinds of peppers,”​ Augustine said. “You see the habanero emerging, chipotle, we are beginning to see the pasilla a little more. Ancho and poblano also are seeing more traction as well.”

Other increasingly popular peppers in food service, which influences CPG launches two or three years down the line, are the arbol chili, japones hot chili pepper, habanero, cherry poppers and fresno chili, he added.

“Each pepper has a unique flavor compound to it. It is not just hot, it has some citrus or herbaceous or sweet overtones to it,”​ Augustine said.

Kalsec already offers many of these flavors in its expeller-press ingredient line, which is clean-label friendly, Augustine said, noting the company will more varieties in the coming weeks.

The best platforms for heat

Successful applications for spicy CPGs include sauces, dressings, snacks, soups and international-inspired curry and Thai foods, Augustine said.

He explained that sauces and dressings appeal to people because they can adjust how much they use to see whether they like it. Sauces also are associated with celebrations, such as barbeques, where consumers enjoy trying new products together.

Snacks are another popular platform for consumers to try spicy food because they are smaller, more “experimental”​ and people often crave bold flavors for snacks, Augustine said.

Soup – especially Thai soup – is gaining traction for spicy ingredients as is curry, he added. He explained consumers are drawn to these more exotic formats because they see them on television cooking shows or social media and want to be part of the trends.

With all the formats, the key to launching a successful product is balancing the sources of heat with the level of heat and other flavors, Augustine concluded. 

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