Travel and the boom in street food have stoked a growing appetite among consumers for new flavours, spice and heat. Angela Frewin looks at the latest innovative condiments and spice combinations
“Seasonings and condiments marry ingredients, provide punch and flavour and can bring a dish to life, so they are vital for chefs and menus,” says Martin Ward, trading director at Country Range. “With consumers journeying the world through their taste buds, we are definitely seeing an increased demand for new flavours, spice and heat.”
Travel and the boom in street food have stoked a growing appetite for novel world cuisines and quirky cultural mash-ups, as Duncan Parsonage, head of food development at Fresh Direct, observes: “We don’t settle for bland, traditional favours and we adore customisation. Additionally, we plagiarise, steal and combine what is native to the west and crash it together with weird, but logical flavours [such as] white chocolate and wasabi.”
Flavours that have snagged his attention include “the addictive miso powder, fresh or dried turmeric root, complex and super-sweet date honey, and the incendiary Yellowbird sauce, prepared with the eye-wateringly hot but fruity Habañero.”
“While staple herbs, spices and condiments such as rosemary, coriander and ketchup remain firm favourites, the growing popularity for trend-driven ingredients has seen more and more chefs making room for Middle Eastern, Mexican and Thai-based ingredients,” observes Megan Modha, grocery category manager at wholesaler Brakes, whose more unusual listings include Asian kaffir lime leaves and tart, lemony Middle Eastern sumac.
“Herbs used in traditional English cooking, such as parsley and basil, are still popular but we are definitely seeing greater demand for more exotic spice blends, such as ras el hanout, Chinese five spice and peri peri,” agrees Tina Manahai-Mahai, managing director at Healthy Supplies.
She believes the growing awareness of the health and therapeutic properties of herbs and spices is driving the surge in demand for flavourings such as cinnamon, paprika, cumin, Spanish saffron, matcha and coconut, while sales of ‘super-spice’ turmeric have boomed by 765% in the past two years.
Jyoti Patel, director of Asian grocer Red Rickshaw (which is poised to launch an own-brand range of ‘complete-meal’ Indian recipe boxes) reports a similar trend: “Despite the availability of ready-made masala powders and pastes, single spices remain extremely popular and sales of traditional spices such as turmeric, chilli, cumin and coriander powder are up 20% year-on-year for us. People are also trying lesser-known ingredients such as kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves) and amchoor (dried mango powder).”
Trusha Patel, UK managing director of Canada’s award-winning Spice Sanctuary, attributes the spice spike to an attempt to avoid the sugar, salt and fillers found in many ready-made sauces and pastes, along with the desire to experience the unique use of ingredients – turmeric in salad dressing or sumac in frozen yogurt, for instance.
“Middle Eastern, Eastern Mediterranean and North African flavours are still very popular, especially in spicing up breakfast dishes, but a rise in smoked flavours is also very on trend,” observes Patel. “Ordinary black pepper, for example, can balance out the heat beautifully when it’s wood-smoked. Spices such as paprika and star anise infuse really well in fermented condiments such as sauerkraut and kimchee, both of which are gaining ground with the health-conscious and warranting a place on the table next to ketchup.”
Brian Yip, director of Oriental grocer Wing Yip, says: “Asian cuisines are showing strong growth, with consumers looking past traditional favourites such as Chinese and Indian to discover exciting and authentic flavours from Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam.”
Wing Yip stocks a wide range of Asian-inspired spices that add authentic flavour to ready-made sauces because, explains Yip, “Asian dishes can include up to a dozen different spices, so it is important for caterers to choose a versatile spice mix that can be used across a range of dishes.”
Nigel Parkes, purchasing and marketing director at Flagship Europe (home of Chef Paul and Tabasco dry seasonings) advises caterers to experiment with seasonings. “The performance of ingredients varies during different methods of preparation and cooking – what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another,” he explains. “Cooking can enhance flavours, but it can also suppress them; what may be considered to be a delicious flavour at an ambient or chilled temperature may be totally different when heated or cooked.”
Condiment suppliers are responding to the call for natural, less processed products and for versatile products that multi-function as ingredients, table sauces, rubs, marinades or dips. Heat remains a hot trend – Wing Yip stocks more than 80 types of chilli variants, including its best-selling Mai Siam-branded Thai sriracha chilli sauce.
New kid on the block
A new contender for our taste buds is the vivid-green Yemeni zhoug paste, a fiery and fragrant blend of coriander, cloves, garlic and chilli. It’s the latest addition to Belazu Ingredient Company’s multi-function Mediterranean paste range, which includes its best-selling Moroccan Chermoula, Harissa, Lemon Verbena Harissa, Black Beldi Tapenade and Tagine.
The hot, spicy tastes of South America, the Caribbean and Asia can work equally well with traditional British fare such as steak, burgers, and fish and chips, notes Tom Styman-Heighton, development chef at American, Mexican and Tex-Mex food supplier Funnybones, whose Encona table sauce range of ‘condiments with kick’ includes West Indian Extra Hot Pepper, Brazilian BBQ, Jamaican Jerk BBQ, African Peri Peri, Peruvian Amarillo Chilli and Mexican Smokey Jalapeno.
And, for an unusual twist on the Aztec chilli/chocolate combination, Parkes at Flagship Europe suggests swirling Tabasco Chipotle Sauce into a baked white chocolate cheesecake before cooking.
Veteran fruit preserver Wilkin & Sons has spiced up its Tiptree line with the quirkily-named Quite Hot Tomato Ketchup, along with Sweet Pepper Relish, Chilli Chutney, Chilli Mustard and Hot Mango. Meanwhile, demand remains strong for traditional British products with authentic provenance and heritage, such as its Hot Gooseberry Chutney and fruity Cumberland Sauce. Tiptree has also added mayonnaise to its range of miniature single-serve savouries for room service, table service and buffet sections.
Tigg’s, too, has added heat and smoke to its all-natural and multi-functional line of dressings (which include Bold Beetroot and Basil & Pea) with the launch of Smokin’ Tomato, whose mix of smoked paprika, red chilli and apple cider vinegar yields what director Jacob James describes as “a gentle warmth and smokiness without blowing anyone’s socks off”.
“With health a key trend, we’re seeing a lot of creativity around salads, so dressings are an essential tool, especially during the alfresco season,” says Ward at Country Range. The group has just unveiled a line of “punchy, fresh, tangy’ multi-purpose dressings for summer, including Honey & Mustard, African Peri Peri, buttery, garlicky Ranch and sweet, peppery Citrus & White Balsamic dressings.
Condiments can help caterers meet consumers’ desire to customise their food at the table, adds Styman-Heighton at Funnybones, who suggests offering a mix of traditional favourites with more adventurous options – perhaps accompanies by a sauce menu with flavour notes – to encourage experimentation.
Caterers can also elevate the experience – and potential price tag – by using eye-catching condiment containers, he adds: “A stainless steel mini-bucket would work, or a custom-made wooden container – a terracotta pot is also attractive. Cleanliness is essential if the sauces are to be tempting, and the bottles and container must be kept spotlessly clean and fresh-looking. No drips or crusty bits!”
Baharat (an eastern Mediterranean mix of cumin, cardamom, cloves, coriander seeds, black pepper, nutmeg, paprika and more) is highlighted as an on-trend, seasoning in the latest McCormick Flavour Forecast, which identifies five globally-inspired flavour trends for 2017:
• ‘World breakfasts’, made from a hash of chickpeas, ground meat and roasted vegetables in a Middle-Eastern skhug sauce, consisting of Thai Bird’s Eye chillies, cumin, cardamom, coriander, garlic, parsley, coriander seed, olive oil and lemon juice.
• Plancha grilled meats and vegetables flavoured with a French Basque smoky, sweet, mildly hot Esplette pepper rub, a green Mojo Verde or nutty Romesco sauce from Spain or a Mexican Adobe Negro sauce.
• All-day egg yolks simmered in a tomato and vegetable shakshuka with smoked paprika, cumin, pepper, cayenne, turmeric and caraway; or cured, salted and spiced before being shaved over dishes as an umami seasoning.
• Modern Mediterranean, melding eastern ingredients with western classics, such as a fusion of Italian minestrone and Persian Ash-e reshteh soups.
• Peppercorns paired with date syrup and dragonfruit, mangosteen or jackfruit to accent their cedar and citrus notes.
Spice Drops from Holy Lama Naturals are an innovative, fuss-free way of adding intense flavour to dishes, drinks, baked goods and marinades with just one or two drops of the 100% natural, highly-concentrated extracts of fresh herbs and spices that blend easily with water, fat and oil for a smooth finish.
“They save preparation time, are incredibly easy to use and yet don’t disappoint on flavour like dried herbs and spices often can,” says managing director Gouri Kubair. “We believe they are the future of flavouring in cooking.”
The drops are ethically sourced from local farms in Kerala, where they are hand-made by a women’s enterprise using a cold-press technique that took 20 years to perfect. They retain fragrance and flavour for three years and come with dispensing droppers and instructions on how many drops replicate stated amounts of the raw or dried ingredients.
The 31-strong range of key herbs and spices – which include asafoetida, rose, lovage seed, saffron and tulsi, along with chai, garam masala and mulling spice blends – has won 16 gold Great Taste Awards, including seven rated at two stars.
Belazu Ingredient Company
Holy Lama Naturals
Wilkin & Sons