There continues to be a growing demand for ethnic spice blends. This is due to the increasing popularity of ethnic cuisine and healthy foods and the increasing consumption of convenience, processed and ready-to-eat dishes. Street food markets around the world, in particular, are inspiring the flavours and recipes of new spice blends, sauces and condiments. Many new product launches are labelled as “street food” in order to attract consumers.
Globalisation is inspiring European consumers to search for new flavour experiences. As a result, brands are bringing more spices and herbs varieties to the market. Consumers have become more interested in other cultures, resulting in more and more product launches that advertise and connect flavour, name of the country, brand and product (for example, “Za'atar Authentic Lebanese Herb Blend”). Also, brands are using labels such as “discover”, “explore”, “uncover”, “unveil” and “unravel” to stimulate demand of curious consumers.
It is not easy to point to one region of the world as the inspiration for new spice blends. In reality, spice blends, although connected with one main origin, can be produced by mixing spices from different origins.
Spices are finding more and more applications in food supplements (for example, black cumin seeds, turmeric (curcuma), ginger, cinnamon, garlic or cloves). Some are traditionally popular in Europe (such as garlic), some are already well established (ginger) and some are intensively being promoted for the health benefits (such as turmeric).
Moreover, it seems that scientific research regarding health benefits in spices is only just beginning. The effects of ginger and garlic are undergoing the most research, while some newly introduced spices such as turmeric need better established medical research cases.
Sustainability has been an important topic over the past several years. Important sustainability issues in spices relate to pesticide residues and inadequate drying methods, leading to, among other things, aflatoxin problems. Also, depending on the spice and country, the production of spices itself faces labour issues (women’s, migrant and/or child labour).
Spices and herbs are used to imitate the taste of meat. European consumers increasingly use protein products (based on soy, wheat and pea protein) as an alternative to meat. Salt, peppers (white, black and red), garlic, onion, celery powder and other savoury spices will contribute their familiar taste to plant-based meat products.
Among other things, food safety in spices relates to mycotoxins (such as aflatoxins) and microbiological (e.g. Salmonella) contamination, unauthorised food additives and adulteration, and maximum levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons being exceeded.
Especially important issues are food fraud and adulteration. Adulteration is the deliberate and intentional inclusion in herbs and spices of substances whose presence is not legally declared, is not permitted or is present in a form that might mislead or confuse the customer, leading to an imitated food and/or a product of reduced value.
The majority of spices imported into Europe are produced in tropical climate zones. The tropical climate allows migration of the spices and herbs production across the globe. Ginger, for example, was originally produced only in Asia and is now widespread in African countries. China and India, which were traditionally European suppliers, are becoming the main spice importers, because their domestic crop cannot meet domestic demand. This leads to the development of new production and sourcing destinations.
Cambodia pepper production illustrates the production switch, where Cambodian production increased to match the needs of neighbouring countries. Cambodia underwent major changes in its position in the world market; its crop reached 20,000 tonnes in 2017, up from 1,450 tonnes in 2011. Most Cambodian pepper is produced without chemical inputs, and is bought by Vietnamese importers to mix it with Vietnamese pepper and reduce pesticide levels in order to meet European requirements.
Industry estimates mention that the size of the global organic spices market is currently valued between 750 million and 1 billion US$ (around 5-7% of the total market). The demand for organic spices is expected to grow by 5-7% annually. Currently, India, China and Vietnam are the key exporters of organic spices. The organic spices segment is dominated by commodities like chilli, ginger and garlic.
The use of organic spices and seasonings by European consumers is increasing, because these products are appreciated for their completely natural ingredients, free from pesticides. European food processors use organic spices as ingredients for the purpose of product differentiation. Moreover, the recognition of the medicinal properties of spices also influences the demand for organic spices and herbs.