It’s clear there is an ongoing shift with consumer interaction with herbs and spices, with ingredients once considered to be a step into the unknown for the home cook now seen as seasoning essentials.
Indeed, a recent survey from global intelligence platform Streetbees found that 59% of consumers love to use different spices in their cooking, while 44% had a keen interest in trying spice mixes from different cultures.
The major supermarkets have cottoned on, with seasonings such as Indian amchoor and Moroccan chermoula readily available on the high street, with consumer demand for authenticity a key driver for many years.
In the same Streetbees survey, almost a third of consumers said they felt very confident experimenting with different spices in their cooking, but a quarter were unsure, with spice delivery company The Spice Pioneer telling Food Spark that there are a number of different factors influencing the public in terms of awareness and perception.
Japanese requests and shichimi togarashi
The Spice Pioneers’ recently released portioned spice mix pods have been shortlisted in the ‘best convenience food innovation’ and ‘best food concept’ categories in the World Food Innovation Awards 2020, with partner Tim Patten explaining that their main goal is remove any “spice intimidation” consumers may have.
Of their five-strong pod range - peri-peri chicken, chilli con carne, fajita, katsu curry and chicken lollipops – the latter two have been the most popular, with Patten citing growing consumer interest in the Japanese cuisine as a real driver.
“I think the katsu curry is so popular because of the growth in interest in Japanese culture and food,” he says.
“People are seeing more about Japanese cuisine in food magazines, they’re seeing katsu ready meals in the supermarkets and they’re going to chain restaurants like Wagamama and experiencing Japanese dishes that the whole family can enjoy.”
Last year, Food Spark highlighted the Japanese spice shichimi togarashi – also known as seven spice powder – as a potential future UK hit, and Patten says it’s now become one of their most requested products, alongside some South American spices.
“Within [our sister business] Seasoned Pioneers, we are slowly seeing a trend towards Japanese and South American cuisine,” he says.
“Consumers and foodservice customers are starting to buy and enquire about specific products such as shichimi togarashi and Latin American chillies like aji panca and aji amarillo.”
Middle Eastern promise and emerging Indian
Demand for Middle Eastern spices is growing, says Patten, with flavours from the Levant (and wider Mediterranean regions) coming into the spotlight recently.
“We believe that Middle Eastern cuisine is set to grow even more, with products like ras-el-hanout, shawarma and za'atar truly becoming household staples, and sabzi ghormeh set to join that list,” continues Patten.
“Middle Eastern cuisine is really hot at the moment, with chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi bringing it to the forefront and showing how easy it is to make these meals which are very healthy and tasty.”
Sales of Indian spices at The Spice Pioneer, meanwhile, remain high, with some lesser-known varieties starting to grow in demand in recent months thanks to increased interest in vegetarian Indian cooking.
“The likes of goan xacuti and kashmiri masala have become household staples now,” explains Patten.
“Chefs like Meera Sodha have brought lesser-known spices like asafoetida to consumers’ attention through her vegetarian cookbook Fresh India. Asafoetida tends to be used in vegetarian Indian cuisine because of its pungent onion/garlic taste.
“Also, Rick Stein’s India cookbook features kashmiri chillies – quite a mild fruity chilli that’s mostly used for its natural red colour – and as a result these are becoming more in demand.”
Kashmiri has been popping up quite regularly over the last few months, most recently as a flavour for artisan chocolate brand Creighton's Chocolaterie and also as as part of a pizza sauce for Co-Op’s plant-based own-brand, Gro.