The spice is right

Operators add globally inspired flavors for changing consumer tastes

spices global flavors

From Mrs. Dash Foodservice.

Remember when Sriracha, kimchi and chipotle were considered exotic? Funny—we can’t either. From Taco Bell’s Sriracha Quesarito to Korean-style tacos with a kimchi slaw at TGI Fridays, spicy global flavors have become as ubiquitous as ketchup and mustard.

And it’s not just restaurants that are feeling the spice love. Operators across both commercial and non-commercial segments alike are expanding their flavor profiles, which helps them menu flavors that appeal to changing consumer tastes, generate excitement and also offers bigger opportunities for expanding the bottom line.

Spicy flavors are a trend that chef and cookbook author Bal Arneson has been involved with first-hand. Known as the “Spice Goddess,” Arneson works with Compass Group to develop healthy recipes that focus on a global use of spices for the company’s wide range of non-commercial facilities, including hospitals, universities, corporate cafes, and senior-living residences.

“People’s palates have grown considerably,” says Arneson, who has been pleasantly surprised by the favorable reactions her Indian-inspired dishes regularly receive, including a lentil-chai cookie that was quickly gobbled up at a senior-living facility in Chattanooga, Tenn.

And offering global flavors in familiar dishes, such as a cookie, can be a great way to introduce these flavors to consumers. “Nondescript flavor carriers, such as quinoa, have the potential to be a perfect landscape for a variety of global flavors,” says Chef Martin Paine with Kent Precision Foods Group. “This type of carrier can envelop a variety of Latin, Indian, or other Asian flavor profiles to transform it to something brilliant. The addition of spice particulate offers visual appeal for a hot application, while spices, vegetables, and fruity vinaigrettes provide great cold applications.”

The embrace of spicy flavors is in part a result of consumers’ move to try new things and learn about the food they eat. “Consumers are looking for something that’s a bit bolder,” says Jana Mann, senior director for Chicago-based food and beverage research company Datassential. “So many people have become foodies today through TV, magazines, blogs, and Instagram. We used to say a trend would take 10 to 12 years from beginning to end; now, it’s more like a 5- to 6-year cycle.”

However, the growth of spice isn’t just about heat. One major misconception about spicy food is that it has to be hot, says Arneson.  “Spicy is taking on a new meaning as flavors from around the globe are making new statements on today’s menus,” she says. Cardamom, which adds a nice floral flavor, and cumin, which brings in earthiness, are two spices Arneson often uses.

Adding global spices to dishes is also a way to boost flavor and health. “Another fantastic benefit about cooking with spices is that is reduces your sodium tremendously,” says Arneson. This makes these flavors especially appealing for use in hospitals and other healthcare segment settings, which are changing.

Paine agrees. “Upcoming generations view food and flavor differently than previous ones,” he says. “Menus and flavor profiles in healthcare segments will require changes in upcoming years to meet consumer expectations. It’s no longer about traditional comfort food. Global spices and forms will help spark interest and appeal in these segments.”

So what spices will we be seeing next? Mann predicts the reign of Sriracha will be followed by Asian spices becoming more mainstream, including togarashi—an interesting mix of sweet and spicy with some notes of caramelization, she says—and gochujang (made from fermented soy beans). Also on her radar: harissa, a Middle Eastern paste made from roasted peppers, and piri-piri, an African chili sauce with a kick.

But it’s not just about these individual ingredients. “Keep in mind that the next generation of spices is not just looking at singular ingredients,” says Paine. “It’s about clever flavor combinations and visual appeal that will bring added interest to tomorrow’s menus.” 

For more tips and ideas on delivering global flavors to your customers, visit Mrs. Dash Foodservice here.

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