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As summer temperatures rise, so does the popularity of the fiery flavors that match the season’s intensity. We associate warmer temperatures with hotter foods, and so does the rest of the world. Some of the world’s spiciest foods originate from countries with some of the hottest climates, such as Ethiopia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Caribbean, Kenya and several Indian states.

But American foods are getting hotter as well. Popcorn, burger, ice cream, frozen pizza, chip and beverage brands are all introducing new spicy flavors. Coca Cola released spicy raspberry products in March. In April, Nestlé released its DiGiorno Thin & Crispy Stuffed Crust Pepperoni Pizza with Mike’s Hot Honey. Also came the Tombstone tavern-style pizza called “the Primo,” with pepperoni, sausage, banana peppers and red onion. Restaurants such as Starbucks released its new spicy lemonade refreshers and spicy cream cold foam in April, and in May Jimmy John’s released its Firecracker Chips and Firecracker Wrap, which includes ghost pepper cheese, crushed Firecracker Chips, peppers and more in a red jalapeno tortilla.

Starbucks noted it was inspired by the “swicy” trend, which combines sweet and spicy flavors. Countries around the world have been using sweet and spicy pairings for centuries, but the catchy name wasn’t around until swicy caught fire on TikTok last year. Not surprisingly, swicy foods have been most popular with Gen Z and Millennial consumers.

“Over the years, we’ve gained accessibility and more insight into global cuisine,” said Kristen Smith, MS, RD, LD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “The excitement of diverse cuisine and flavors has likely played a role in increasing the desire for foods with enhanced spice.”

According to Circana and reported by CNN, dollar sales for food and beverages with “spicy” in the description has increased 9% year-over-year. Also, 11% of 25 to 34-year-olds enjoy bold and unexpected flavors, up 7 percentage points from 2019 and that 11% of 18 to 34-year-olds enjoy bold and unexpected flavors, up 4.7 percentage points from 2019. Additionally, in 2023, North American shoppers made almost 400 million trips to purchase Flamin’ Hot products, up 31% from the previous year.

Health and wellness professionals need to be aware of these trends to stay relevant and engage with clients who are interested in exploring bold and exciting flavors. Your recommendations can then better align with food preferences and market trends. Understanding the role of spices in various cuisines additionally helps dietitians develop culturally competent dietary plans, fostering a more inclusive practice. Dietitians can also tailor dietary advice to include spices that can aid in managing specific health conditions, providing a natural and holistic approach to managing health issues.

So get ready to spice up your summer and explore the vibrant, mouth-watering world of spices that bring the summer heat and flavor to your clients, consumers and patients’ tables.

Health benefits

Spices not only can enhance the flavor of meals, but also can offer various health benefits, primarily due to their antioxidant properties, according to John Hopkins Medicine. They also have helpful phytochemicals, according to WebMD. But Smith said since research is limited, she’s not recommending clients run out buying spicy products, focusing their dietary intake on spicy foods for weight loss or reduction of heart disease risk.

“It’s possible the actual spice in foods may offer a health benefit, but if it’s within a high fat food, the benefit is negated,” she said.

Smith said adding spices to familiar dishes may be a good place to start. Consuming an abundance of spicy snack foods can add up in calories quickly. Clients who are prone to acid reflux should also be cautious with adding spicy foods to their diet.

Jessica Ball, MS, RD, and nutrition editor for EatingWell, said when it comes to spices, to recommend whatever clients like and what they would actually eat.

“They all offer unique benefits,” Ball said. “It’s a matter of personal preference.”

Here are spices with notable health benefits:

Cayenne: Contains capsaicin, which provides pain relief from arthritis and nerve damage and may reduce ulcers. Add it to chili, soups, stews, meat dishes and even hot chocolate for a spicy kick.

Cinnamon: Helps lower blood sugar levels and improve heart health by reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It’s a sweet, low-calorie spice beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes. It may also help with inflammation. Use it in yogurt, fruit, hot cereal, stews, chilis or as a meat rub.

Cocoa: Contains flavonoids that boost heart health and lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Cumin: Rich in iron and may aid in weight loss. It also has anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory and cardio-protective effects, and supports bile production, which is important for the digestion and absorption of nutrients, according to Health magazine.

Cardamom: Helps soothe an upset stomach and is rich in minerals like magnesium and zinc. It also possesses antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties and has been used to treat various health conditions, including periodontal infections, asthma and congestive jaundice.

Chili peppers: Boost metabolism, increase satiety and help keep blood vessels healthy due to capsaicin. However, they can also cause pain, burning sensations, nausea and bloating.

Turmeric: Contains curcumin, which reduces inflammation, potentially aiding in Alzheimer’s disease, depression, arthritis pain and possibly cancer. Add it to roasted vegetables, meats, tacos or curry dishes.

“Turmeric ranks really highly in the potency of anti-inflammatory compounds,” Ball said.

Ginger: Effective against nausea, including pregnancy-related, post-surgery, motion sickness and chemotherapy-induced nausea. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and can improve gastric motility, reducing intestinal cramping, flatulence and bloating. Incorporate it into stir-fries, smoothies, teas, salad dressings and baked goods.

Garlic: Contains allicin, which promotes heart health by keeping blood vessels flexible and reducing cholesterol and triglycerides. It also helps with blood pressure and is a key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. Use it with olive oil, pepper, rosemary, soups and salad dressings.

Rosemary: Rich in antioxidants and may boost brain activity. It’s also been known to have antimicrobial properties.

“It’s hearty. It can stand up to a lot of different cooking methods,” Ball added.

Preparation and storage

Using spices fresh or dried can provide beneficial compounds, although frying or grilling can reduce their antioxidants. Microwave cooking, simmering or stewing may enhance their antioxidant levels. Supplements can offer higher doses, but lack strict regulation.

Spices can be used as a vehicle for creativity, Ball said. Especially with the unique “swicy” flavor combinations rolling out, Ball said consumers should strive to “spice” things up.

“Food should be fun. We’re not robots,” Ball said. “Experimenting with different spice combinations can be tailored to your own preferences. Cooking at home allows you to do that. For example, it’s kind of refreshing to pair something spicy with a cold seltzer or drink. It’s a nice combination for the summertime.”

She added that spice is a nice way to add flavor to things that are cooked less. However, beware of adding too much spice, which may cause a sensory overload.

It’s generally better to consume these herbs and spices in their natural form rather than as supplements, as whole foods provide a range of beneficial compounds that work together for optimal health benefits. Clients should always consult a health professional before adding supplements to their diets.

In addition, Ball said to remind consumers how to use and store spices properly. Spices should be used within six months to a year from the purchase date. Otherwise, they degrade over time and a lot of the flavor or aromatic potential is lost.

“Spices do go bad. They don’t last forever,” she said. “It is important. If you can’t remember when you bought it, it’s probably worth replacing.”

Also, if clients are concerned about the costly nature of spices, they can find a store that allows shoppers to bring their own container or use a different container the store has on hand, and thus purchase spices at a lower price.

As summer temperatures rise, the food industry is responding with a variety of new spicy products, from snacks to beverages, reflecting the growing consumer interest in bold and unexpected flavors. For health and wellness professionals, understanding these trends is essential for making relevant dietary recommendations and creating culturally competent, engaging dietary plans. Moreover, the health benefits of spices, such as their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, provide potential tools for managing specific health conditions. By staying informed about the culinary and health aspects of spices, dietitians can offer comprehensive and evidence-based nutritional guidance, helping clients make informed, health-promoting dietary choices. Embrace the summer heat and the vibrant world of spices to bring flavor and health benefits to your clients’ palates.

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