Meat and poultry brands and restaurant operators have been moving beyond the classics and incorporating peppers with dynamic flavor profiles. For example, according to the Chicago-based Mintel Menu Insights database guajillo, Calabrian, serrano and ancho chilis have been gaining traction on menus, adding a sweet or smoky edge to menu items. Packaged brands are following similar a path, says Alyssa Hangartner, Mintel analyst for flavors and ingredients. 

“Complex flavor combinations are already a consumer favorite – nearly four in 10 consumers prefer sweet and spicy and sweet and savory flavor profiles with proteins,” she explains. “One developing flavor trend is that brands are using honey to balance popular fiery flavor profiles like honey sriracha and honey habanero, in addition to using heat to update classic honey like in hot honey.” 

Innova Market Insights, located in Arnhem, The Netherlands, reports that, globally, chili remains very popular across food categories, and its use in new products grows annually. Innova believes a key driver of chili’s growth includes companies using detailed and premium flavor descriptors, instead of just “chili.” 

“It needs to be specified,” explains Lu Ann Williams, Innova’s director of innovation. “Jalapeño is still the number one specified chili, but we see a faster growth in use for pimentos.”

Additionally, consumer interest in international cuisine exploration has continued to grow and even heightened because of the pandemic, Mintel’s Hangartner says. “Cuisines that blend bold flavors with a healthy twist show great potential,” she explains. “Middle Eastern, Moroccan and Asian seasoning blends and ingredients like turmeric, harissa and za’atar, while still nascent, are gaining traction.”

Kantha Shelke, food scientist and principal of Corvus Blue LLC, Chicago agrees the quest for spiciness and authenticity is leading to manufacturers specifying seasonings from other parts of the world. As a result, cuisines of East Asia and Southeast Asia, particularly South Korea, Vietnam, Japan and Thailand, and various regions in Africa are gaining popularity. Product developers are using harissa, gochujang, peri-peri, Aleppo pepper and Baklouti pepper. 

Regional peppers also are gaining ground, Shelke says, and people seek varieties, such as hatch, ancho, and red and green jalapeño, and colorful peppers, such as aji rocoto, aji amarillo, aji limo and aji panca, along with the bird’s eye chile, biquinho (little beak) pepper, Calabrian chile, and spicy aji amarillo pepper. 

Spicier New Products 

While Innova reports chili growth trends across new product launches globally, these chili trends are seen in meat and poultry launches in North America as well. Chili and black pepper are at the top of the list in terms of flavors, but a long trail of specific flavors and a range of chili peppers, especially, follow. For example, jalapeño chili, pepper, chipotle chili, siracha chili, lemon pepper, sweet and spicy chili, sweet chili and green chili were top chili and pepper flavors in the last five years in North American meat and poultry products, Innova reports.

The most common flavors used in poultry products, specifically, are still traditional meat flavors, but as consumers become more adventurous, greater use of spices and bold flavors could help create interest in this mature category, Innova says. Last year, the top flavors for new poultry launches included smoked, cheese, chili, barbecue and garlic, but jalapeño chili also was growing.

In regard to new deli meat launches last year, smoked, pepper, chili, paprika and Italian were the leading flavors, but spices, herbs and black pepper were other flavors growing in popularity, Innova reports. In new meat snack launches last year in North America, chili was the leading flavor followed by spices, barbecue, pepper and smoked, but other growing flavors are habanero, chipotle and jalapeño chili, the research firm reports. 

Spicier Formulations

A common challenge faced by new product developers when they use peppers and spices is to know what will please their target audience, Shelke says. Another challenge for product developers is to find a way to maintain the “heat level” consistently without the inherent variation of crops and batches. 

Technical challenges also include the dependence of the application of spices and seasonings to meat and poultry products on the type of final product. For ground meat products, such as sausages and meatballs, spices and seasoning can be added directly during mixing. For meat and poultry requiring marinades, the seasoning system must be dispersed via brines and marinades for dispersion through the muscle tissues for consistent flavor throughout. Care must be taken that the spice and pepper seasonings maintain their flavor and heat through the processing steps to deliver the right aroma and flavor notes in the finished product, Shelke explains. IP