Are extreme flavours making a come-back and if so, why?
From hot chilli liqueurs to spicy rosé (no, really), consumers and drinks makers are getting increasingly spicy. Yes, things are heating up, with ingredients such as jalapenos and hot spices increasingly finding their way into products where they really have no business. So why is it that we’re all craving a little fire?
As summer fades into autumn, it seems that consumers across the world aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to a little warmth just yet. Yes, temperatures may be getting cooler, but it seems our drinks are getting hotter.
A flurry of hot and spicy spirits launches have recently been followed by some rather unlikely flavour pairings, as the trend for extreme flavours has migrated to social media. Yes, for the most recent drinks curiosity we look again to Tik Tok, where a craze for adding sliced green jalapenos to a glass of chilled rosé wine has become an international taste trial taken on by enthusiastic imbibers. A few brave souls have even muddled the jalapenos before sipping too.
Consumers keen to join in on the craze believed to have been started in the US by influencer @allyssainthekitchen have helped amass almost half a million views of the original post, a number of copycat videos, as well as countless pieces in the media questioning why it is happening at all. Fair question.
Blame Tik Tok
Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to sip a wine alongside a curry knows that wine and spice are not usually great bedfellows. However, according to those that have tried it, the combination works by helping cut through overly fruity, sweet – dare we say it, cheap – wine, helping reduce any saccharine notes. Or put simply, it helps brighten up and improve a cheap plonk, which is actually fairly useful in these inflationary times.
And alongside a flurry of spicy margaritas on prestigious and non-prestigious bar menus alike, hot and spicy drinks are making their presence felt across a range of products too. Though launched in 2017, its not until recently that younger LDA drinkers in Mexico have truly embraced Smirnoff’s Spicy Tamarind vodka. Described as hot, tangy, sweet, tart, and importantly, suitable for shooting, it’s become a much-loved party drink of late, standing out amid a sea of fruit flavoured spirits.
A Mexican heatwave
More recently Mexican spirit Ancho Reyes has been making a push into international markets. Described – without verification it has to be said – as the first spicy liqueur in the world made from chilies, the spirit is inspired by a 1920s recipe from the town of Puebla de Zaragoza, East of Mexico City. It can be sipped alone, as an aperitif or digestive, to experience its full heat, or mixed in cocktails for a more subtle jalapeno flavour, as well as a smoky spice with a hint of sweetness. And new whisky liqueur Scorch does what it says on the tin. Using a blood orange and chilli infusion it is said to deliver a dose of heat suitable for shooting, but with an approachable sweetness too.
A time for spice
So, why is this happening now? Are previously cooped-up consumers simply ready to go wild and party? Well, perhaps a little. But the answer may be a little more sensorial. With millions of cases of Covid still being reported across the world, as well as in key drinks markets such as the US and UK, there growing numbers of consumers whose taste of smell and taste have been impaired. So it stands to reason that demand for bolder, stronger flavours is much greater than it ever has been.
According to UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, heat and spice are currently trending. It reports that for example sales of Sriracha sauce have grown by 110% since 2019. Furthermore, it reports that 36% of its shoppers have introduced chilli into their diets over the past two years, while 70% say they now love spicy food.
The full effect of Covid on taste and olfactory functions is still not fully understood. However, estimates suggest that around 60% of those who contract Covid suffer from smell or taste impairment, with around 60% of those cases experiencing smell and taste loss beyond four weeks. But for many, the effects last much longer. One in 20 cases are though to suffer the symptoms for eight months or more.
It's hard to overstake what being locked out of a vast part of how someone sensorially experiences the world, is like for those that are suffering from the aftereffects of Covid. And for those that have had their sense of smell and taste dulled, flavours that are highly salty, highly sweet, or highly spicy are easier to experience and register, and are therefore infinitely appealing.
What does the future hold for bold flavours? With Covid seemingly with us for the foreseeable, many more consumers will suffer sensory loss. So it stands to reason that the demand for powerful, spicy flavours will only increase. Mexican drinks, from tequila to ranch water, are currently growing in popularity, so expect more Mexican takes on the hot and spicy trend to migrate to other markets. Conversely, localised takes on heat and spice will also ramp up, as brands look for ways to tap into local tastes and flavours that go with specific cuisines.
For as long as Covid is with us, tastes may be dulled, but the future is spicy.
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