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Hot Peppers (Spicy Food)

May 19, 2021 | Trends

The heated scene takes place in Long Beach, Calif. Thousands have gathered for the annual California Hot Sauce Expo ready to indulge their favorite passion, go wild on fiery food and punish their palates by sampling savagely spicy sauces. One contest even involves trying to ingest the hottest known pepper on earth, the appropriately named Carolina Reaper.

Why do people want to singe their mouths and throats and break out in a sweat for sheer entertainment? It’s the experience generation and their motto is: “been there, done that!” Not only is it an experience, but foodies are building a resistance to such common condiments as Cholula Hot Sauce, Sriracha, and Tabasco, by continually ratcheting up their tolerance for heat:

  • Ethnic food – The trend is catching fire due to the intermingling of global ethnicities and the growing popularity of such spicy ethnic cuisines as Cajun, Hunan, Indian, Mexican, Szechuan, and Thai. Case in point: 80% of consumers eat at least one ethnic cuisine each month. Granted, the most popular ethnic cuisines reportedly are Italian (61%), Mexican (50%), and Chinese (36%). The ethnic trend is best illustrated by the 46,700 Chinese restaurants Chinese Restaurant News reports operate in the U.S., more than McDonald’s (13,837), Burger King (7,257), Wendy’s (5,881), Five Guys (1,391) and Carl’s Jr. (1,068) combined. In comparison, there are roughly 4,200 sushi restaurants, according to market researcher IBISWorld.
  • Spice consumption – According to the American Spice Trade Association, Americans downed more than 1 billion pounds of spices in 2000, up 87% from the 544 million pounds consumed in 1981, and up 485% from 1961’s 171 million pounds. The fastest-growing category: “hot spices” — including black and white pepper, red pepper, ginger, and mustard seed, which now comprise 41% of U.S. spice usage, up 71% since the late 1970s. The use of spices doubled between 1970 and 1990 and will double again between 1990 and 2020, when the market was expected to top $16 billion, up from about $12 billion in 2014.
  • Hot sauce – The best proxy for the market’s interest in hot food may well be the race to create the world’s hottest peppers and sauces. In 2017, Tabasco debuted Tabasco Scorpion Sauce — a sauce that was 20 times hotter than the original. Marketed as a “small batch” with pre-orders starting on July 31, it sold out within a few hours. Tabasco claims that Scorpion Sauce, made from what else, scorpion peppers, registers 50,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) on the pungency heat scale, compared to “just” 2,140 SHU for the Original Red Sauce. That’s nothing compared to the 16 million SHUs claimed by Blair’s 16 Million Reserve, which is, thankfully, only sold in 1-milliliter vials.
  • Dave’s Insanity – The blow-your-brains-out trend started, where else, in San Francisco where Dave’s Gourmet, founded in 1993 by Dave Hirschkop, sells as many as 1 million bottles each year of Dave’s Insanity Sauce, a sauce that lives up to its billing. Hirschkop invented his sauce out of necessity. After launching an offbeat taqueria in Maryland, called Burrito Madness, Hirschkop needed a way to fend off unruly, drunk kids who annoyingly insisted on frequenting his burrito joint. To return the favor, he created the “hottest hot sauce in the universe.” Unfortunately, the kids liked it. Hirschkop began bottling his sauce and named it “Insanity Sauce” after people told him the sauce was insane.
  • Competition – A wave of competition emerged, including the PuckerButt Pepper Co., owned by Ed Currie, responsible for growing the Carolina Reaper — boasting 2.2 million SHUs and currently the Guinness record holder for the world’s hottest pepper. Like other cultivated peppers, including ghost, naga, and scorpion peppers, the Carolina Reaper targets young males who drive category growth.
  • Experience generation – The Generation X-tasy Ubertrend is pushing the limits of what can be eaten, which is not limited to hot food. Fear Factor, which initially aired on NBC from 2001 to 2006, was famous for its vomit-inducing eating stunts, starting with worms and progressively getting worse. Even forcing contests to drink donkey semen in a segment NBC wisely decided not to air.

If you have any lingering doubts that people will be eating far hotter foods in the future, despite today’s often-heard protestations, perish the thought.
Hot peppers are here to stay and ready to incinerate your palate, and Indian food could well influence the progress of this trend. 🌶🥵

Ubertrend Categorization: Generation X-tasy.

Michael Tchong’s Ubertrends book
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