Some (more) like it hot

Departments - Edible Insights

Whether they’re cooking at home or ordering out, consumers are looking for spicier options and hotter peppers.

September 25, 2020

‘Armageddon,’ pictured here, is the world’s first F1 hybrid super-hot chili. The habanero has a Scoville rating of 1.2 million.
Photo courtesy of Tozer Seeds

When it comes to food preferences in my house, the spicier the better. At least, for me personally. My husband, on the other hand, thinks I am insane. He cannot understand why I enjoy eating spicy food or the allure of intensely hot peppers. Or why on earth I would grow or buy habanero peppers. I grew up in a family from Louisiana who pretty much covered every plate of food with a healthy layer of cayenne pepper. He grew up in Minnesota. So there you have it. When I cook, I make separate versions of dinner, reserving all the hot peppers and spicy seasonings for my plate. When it comes to consumer produce and cuisine trends, it looks like my spicy side is winning. If you grow hot peppers, or are looking to expand your offerings, it might be time to heat things up.

Dining data

When making choices about which types of new produce to add to your production list, it is always a good idea to dig into dining trends. DoorDash just released its 2020 Deep Dish trends report, with many of the top 10 most popular delivery items being spicy in nature. Mexican food topped the list, making up 40% of all orders. The top 10 condiments ordered included hot mustard, spicy mayo, hot sauce and salsa. Bland cuisine is just not cutting it.

Why should you pay attention to restaurant and food delivery orders when you are growing and selling fresh produce? Well, just because people are ordering more takeout does not mean they are cooking less. According to the same DoorDash survey, 70% of their customers have spent more time cooking and 33% have spent much more. Only 7% spent less time cooking during the first six months of the year.

Kalsec, a leading global producer of natural spice and herb flavor extracts, backs this trend up with its own research. According to its 2019 global survey, more than 50% of their consumers indicated that they choose spicy options when dining out and when making meals at home — a significant increase compared to their 2017 data.

Grow big

Home vegetable gardening has also taken off in a big way over the last six months as a response to the COVID-19 shutdowns. Many consumers, stuck at home, took up a trowel for the first time to try their hand at growing edibles. But growing your own veggies does not necessarily mean you buy fewer veggies at the grocery store or farmer’s market. It does usually mean that you gain more familiarity with a wider variety of fruits and vegetables, and a desire to try and cook with new and interesting edibles.

Peppers are a go-to crop for many beginner gardeners, with hot peppers typically being easier to grow. Once someone has gotten a taste for homegrown chilies or habaneros, they tend to want them year-round — not just when fruit is in season in their garden.

Know the source

Essentially, what consumers are looking for is flavor. Big, enhanced flavor. Hot peppers are the perfect vehicle for pumping up flavor — both in fresh and extract form. More interestingly, consumers want to know exactly where the spicy flavor comes from. According to Kelsac’s survey, more than 50% of respondents were interested in knowing the specific variety of pepper being used. This need for knowledge is a great opportunity when it comes to your marketing.

Hot pepper ‘Longhorn’ features long, bright red fruits with a signature curl at the tip, with a Scoville rating of 15,000 to 20,000.
Photo courtesy of Vegetalis

New and hot

If you are looking to boost your hot pepper production, I picked a few new and intriguing variety releases for you to check out:

First up is ‘Alter Ego’, named for a combination of hot and sweet flavor. Plants have a naturally dwarf growth habit, making them easier on your production space. Fruits are large and upward facing for ease of harvest. Fruit has a lovely color changing from cream to light purple and then bright red as it matures. ‘Alter Ego’ is reported to have strong branching and high yields, with good disease resistance.

Next is ‘Longhorn’, an F1 hybrid with exceptionally long, bright red fruits that sport a signature curl at the tips. Fruit falls into the mild heat category with a Scoville rating of 15,000 to 20,000. Plants were bred for high heat and direct sun tolerance. Due to heavy yields, ‘Longhorn’ may require extra support.

Finally, and one of my favorites to be released in 2021, a new habanero named ‘Armageddon’, the world’s first F1 hybrid super-hot chili. As its name implies, ‘Armageddon’ is for your serious hot heads with a Scoville rating of 1.2 million! The deep red mature fruit color is fantastic. Plants are excellent upright growers with improved vigor and an early harvest schedule.

I don’t know about you, but I could definitely use a bit more color, flavor and excitement in my life this year … because 2020. As consumers turn to food and home cooking to spice up their lives — plus a pop of positivity — let’s help them spice things up with a better and more beautiful selection of hot peppers.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies.