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Ethnic Foods Popularity Warms U.S. Spice Sales.
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The increased demand for piquant flavors in ethnic foods continues to have a positive impact on spice sales in the U.S. According to an article in Chemical Marketing Reporter, a leading trade weekly, spice sales have continued to escalate over the past ten years.

Spice sales have increased by 26 million pounds in the period from mid-1991 to mid-1992, according to figures at the American Spice Trade Association (ASTA). The total spice consumption in 1991 was 91 million pounds more than the yearly average over the past five years. ASTA estimates that by the year 2000 end users will consume over one billion pounds.

Total imports of spices, condiments,and flavorings increased in 1991 in volume and value, according to figures released by the USDA: $362.3 million in 1991 compared to $355 million in 1990. Spice oleoresin imports climbed to a record $32.6 million. The total for this category (including oleoresins) was $394.9 million, 2.5 percent over 1990's imports.

The most notable increases have come from increased uses by manufacturers of Mexican and Italian foods, which use large quantifies of oregano, basil, garlic, onion, and cayenne pepper. In addition, the processors are using higher levels of hot spices like capsicum pepper in many ethnic foods. The largest increase in herb use from a percentage basis is fennel, popular in Italian sausages.

Much of the new spice demand is coming from manufacturers of low-fat, low-salt foods, which use additional spices to provide natural flavors. Another shift in demand can be seen in the area of increased use of spices by prepared food manufacturers and food service establishments instead of consumer end users who constituted 60 percent of the market 10 to 12 years ago.

The largest dollar spice import was vanilla bean at $69 million, with black and white pepper at $60.6 million a close second. Over half the U.S. spice imports still come through New York, the largest spice port of entry. The major spice exporters to the U.S. are Indonesia, India and Madagascar. (Topfer, Kurt. 1992. "US Spice Demand Grows As Ethnic Foods Take Hold." Chemical Marketing Reporter, Sept. 14).

Article copyright American Botanical Council.

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By Mark Blumenthal