Some like it hot, and food service providers are responding by turning up the spice. Across literally all food categories, peppers, spices, and hot sauces are showing up more and more frequently. From spicy buffalo-flavored potato chips to sriracha-sauced burgers and chipotle beer, hot and spicy are the buzzwords of the flavor world.
What is driving this spice explosion? Several factors are combining to make spicy flavors more popular than ever. The biggest driver is probably demographics; market research firm Mintel found that a majority of Millennials (62 percent) consider themselves “adventurous eaters,” and three out of four Millennials want to experience more new flavors when eating out. And market intelligence firm IBISWorld calls sriracha sauce, a spicy combination of red chili and garlic, the “go-to condiment” for Millennials.
It’s not just Millennials who prefer spicier foods; 54 percent of all consumers enjoy hot or spicy foods, up from 48 percent just seven years ago. Another driver of this trend is the increased interest in different kinds of ethnic foods. Food court lo mein just doesn’t cut it for exotic food these days. Spice company McCormick documents greater interest in new spice blends like Shawarma spice (from Middle Eastern street food) and Japanese 7-spice (Shichimi Togarashi). Flavor company Kalsec notes that one out of four consumers is eating spicy food more often this year than last year. Kalsec also found that jalapenos are still the most popular pepper, but new peppers like arbol and japones chiles are gaining popularity.
There are some good health reasons to enjoy spicy food. For one, adding spice is a great way to add flavor without adding harmful salt to your diet. The capsaicin in hot peppers has been linked to speeding up people’s metabolism, which can help with weight loss. It can also dilate blood vessels, lowering blood pressure. As previously discussed on this blog, the curcumin in turmeric has strong anti-inflammatory properties. So spice it up! Your taste buds will eventually grow back, even if you try that crazy ghost pepper or “Carolina Reaper.”
Ingredient Du Jour: Seaweed
It’s official; the hot ingredient for 2016 is… [drum roll]… seaweed!
Yes, food trend forecasters are hailing seaweed as “the new kale,” as it replaces the dark leafy green in the affections of health-conscious eaters. And no wonder: sea vegetables (as aficionados call them) are extraordinarily high in many crucial vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Read on to learn what all the fuss is about.
Types of Sea Vegetables/Seaweed
There are thousands of different species of seaweed, ranging from nutritious to poisonous, so don’t go down to the beach and start munching on what you find there. There are three basic categories of seaweed: brown, red, and green. Popular brown seaweeds include kombu (kelp) and wakame, which are frequently used in Japanese cooking. The most common red seaweed is nori, which is available in sheets and is familiar to many Americans as the seaweed that wraps sushi. Green seaweeds include sea lettuce and sea grass.
Seaweed is an excellent source of iodine, a nutrient that maintains thyroid health. Although most table salt contains added iodine, the salt in processed food does not. Mild iodine deficiencies are becoming more common, but just one gram of brown seaweed contains 50 times the recommended daily intake of the mineral! Seaweeds are also high in potassium and calcium, as well as antioxidants that help fight inflammation and infection. A study has also linked brown kelp to the modulation of endocrine hormones like estrogen and estradiol, leading to a reduction of hormone-related cancers like breast cancer.
Despite our perpetual search for a panacea, no one food is a cure-all. As with most foods, super or otherwise, moderation is crucial. Seaweed has a high natural sodium content, so consuming too much can lead to excessive sodium intake. Similarly, seaweed’s high potassium and iodine contents can be harmful in high doses. A more troubling concern is that seaweed harvested from polluted water will have those pollutants in the seaweed. Although the FDA regulates commercial seaweed, it does not regulate supplements, so make sure these are from a reputable source.