Posted by Patrick Maness
In places like Louisiana and the border regions of the southwest, hot peppers and mouth-stinging heat have played a fundamental role in cooking for generations, but by and large, American food has been a relatively bland affair. In the past two or three decades, however, more Americans have come to truly accept hot, spicy foods as valid menu options. Thanks to a huge uptick in the popularity of Mexican, South and Southeast Asian foods, and of course, the wild success of Sriracha, America as a whole has grown to love hot foods.
But while we may have acclimated ourselves to heat, there are indications that the craze for all things hot is diminishing. In its place, diners are turning their attention heat’s close cousin: spice.
The shift from hot foods to flavorful spice blends and sauces allows diners the chance to discover new dishes and rediscover variations on some of their favorite meals. For those who can't stand the heat, or those who think heat has killed flavor, it’s time to rejoice and enjoy some flavorful spice. Here are four rising spice stars to inspire your restaurant menu:
1. Berbere — This staple Ethiopian spice is expanding from ethnic restaurants to mainstream dishes. Yes, it does have a hot kick, but the strong fragrance that comes form a combination of chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, fenugreek, cumin, nutmeg and others, works great as a rub or when used on braised food.
2. Turmeric — Turmeric has gained a lot of attention for both its flavor (it makes curry yellow and is extensively used through out South Asian cuisines) and for its purported health benefits. Because many believe turmeric can curb the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and more, it has been showing up in a lot more than just curry.
3. Shichimi-Togarashi — Nicknamed “Japanese seven spice,” this blend of red chili pepper, sesame seeds, dried orange peel, black pepper, poppy seeds and seaweed flakes begins with a hot kick but shifts toward an interesting, crunchy flavor that is both complex and adventurous.
4. Gochujang — Even the most popular food trends eventually cool down, and it's uncertain whether Sriracha will hold its position as the dominant condiment in many Asian restaurants. An alternative showing up in many places is a sweet and spicy sauce called Gochujang. This pungent Korean condiment is not for the faint of heart, though. It’s a fermented mixture of red chilies, glutinous rice and fermented soybeans.
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