“From use as a flavoring in food to satisfy the palate to use as a supplement for health benefits, the spice market takes a turn for the good!”
Food is one of the main conduits if not the main one for greater interaction and understanding between countries and cultures around the world. While the worldwide expansion of fast food chains (largely originating from the Unites States) has been the main story in the food world in recent decades, a reversal of sorts is now happening, at least when it comes to flavors. Cuisines and exotic flavors from countries such as China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico and Thailand are becoming increasingly popular in the US. As a result, US residents are getting greater exposure to an assortment of spices, in the process leading to increasing consumption and imports of spices.
Beyond the flavoring aspect, increasing research is being devoted to explore the health benefits of various spices, sometimes with favorable conclusions. Regions of the world that are closer to the tropics tend to dominate global spice production. The cuisines of these regions also tend to include an abundance of spices due to the historical ease of availability of locally grown spices. In some of these regions, rates of medical problems such as allergies, Alzheimer’s and selected cancers tend to be significantly lower than in the developed world. There are a number of possible reasons for this, and some scientists have suggested the health benefits from spices such as turmeric could be part of the explanation. Although most such claims have not been conclusively proven beyond reasonable doubt yet, demand for spices as a form of nutritional supplementation is rapidly growing in US.
US Spice Demand:
The US market for spices in 2014 was valued at around $3.4 billion. Recent gains in US spice demand have benefitted from rapidly rising Hispanic and Asian populations (a trend that should continue for decades) and by corollary, increasing awareness of and consumption of spicy cuisine by native populations. The biggest beneficiary from this demographic transition has been demand for chili peppers (also referred to as capsicum and, if in powdered form, paprika). Although the US (primarily via New Mexico) is a significant producer of chili peppers, demand growth has largely been satisfied via imports.
Health Benefits of Spices:
Some spices such as turmeric have also received great publicity in terms of their potential health benefits in recent years, and companies have been increasingly gearing marketing towards this area instead of just focusing on the flavoring and taste benefits of spices. In the case of turmeric, the purported health benefits from its key ingredient curcumin have resulted in increasing use in supplements, juices and other non-traditional areas.
Examples of other often claimed and sometimes proven health related benefits of spices include blood sugar control from cinnamon; cavity prevention from nutmeg; rise in metabolism/weight loss from cayenne pepper; anti-inflammatory benefits of ginger and much more.
The potential health benefits of spices has resulted in the creation of a new segment within the overall spice market that is essentially part of the much larger health food and nutritional supplement sector. Supplements, juices and other products with added spices garner much higher profit margins compared to regular stand-alone spice sales. For companies involved in the spices and seasonings market, innovation in this new segment will become crucial in the coming years as competition from private labels in the stand-alone spice market intensifies.
US Spice Trade:
The US is not a significant producer or exporter of most spices (with some notable exceptions such as capsicums/chili peppers and mustard seeds), but is among the world’s three largest spice consumers (China and India being the other two). Consequently, the country runs large trade deficits in a number of spices. Not surprisingly, Asia, which dominates global spice production, also accounts for a majority of US spice imports.
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