Do you give much thought to the spices you sprinkle on your baked chicken—or do you just grab what’s in your pantry and go for it? Which spices you use, and which spices you have on hand, says a lot about current food trends.
According to USDA data, per capita spice consumption nearly tripled over the past half-century, from 1.2 pounds per year in 1966 to 3.4 in 2012. The organization explains,
The FiveThirtyEight blog took the USDA’s extensive spice data—which details the availability of various spices every year from 1966 to 2012—and created helpful graphs to show which spices have become more popular, and which have been pushed to the back of the spice cupboard.
Spices That Have Increased In Popularity:
From 2004 to 2011, the per capita availability of turmeric jumped nearly 70 percent. It seems like more and more studies touting the spice’s health benefits come out every day. “Sometimes you have to give the credit to the medical people,” owner of The Spice House, Patty Erd, tells FiveThirtyEight.
>Chile pepper and Paprika
Chile’s popularity has skyrocketed: there were 2,000 to 3,000% increases in production from New Mexico in the 1980s and ’90s, as well as overall increases in availability over the past half-century. “When [Erd] and her husband opened The Spice House’s second shop—in 1992 in Evanston, Illinois—it seemed like everyone who entered had to have ancho, New Mexican and guajillo chile peppers,” writes FiveThirtyEight. “The Erds couldn’t figure out the obsession until one day a customer walked in with a Rick Bayless cookbook.”
Ginger availability has shot up nearly 525 percent since 1990. Like turmeric, ginger is also known for its health benefits, including reducing inflammation, preventing colon cancer, and strengthening immunity.
>Anise, Fennel, Cumin
Over the past 50 years, anise, fennel and cumin have seen 1,000, 700, and 375 percent increases in per capita availability, respectively. Caraway has seen a 50 percent decrease. Is rye bread becoming unpopular?
It should be noted that “the available quantity of a spice can serve as a proxy for consumption,” according to USDA analyst Jeanine Bentley, but it doesn’t necessarily match what people want to consume. FiveThirtyEight writes, “Erd directed me to allspice (also known as pimento), which had a lower per capita availability in 2012 than any year since 1966. She told me that the best allspice comes from Jamaica but that the island nation barely grows enough even for domestic consumption, let alone export. Meanwhile, it’s a current favorite among her food-driven clientele.”
Want to learn more about spice trends? Spice giant McCormick does an annual spice forecast. According to the 2015 report, global spice blends—like shawarma spices and Japanese 7 spice blend—are on the rise, as are smoked spices and sour salt blends.
We wonder what the snobby elite of medieval Europe, who viewed spices as low class, would think of all this.