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Food Trends

America's appetite for spice has skyrocketed over the past 50 years

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Americans appetite for spice has only increased in the last 50 years. (iStock)

With the explosive growth of Sriracha hot sauce, it may come as no surprise that Americans love spice. But according to a new report from the USDA we import and consume more spices than any other nation right now.

“The Spice Market in the United States: Recent Developments and Prospects” details domestic spice buying and eating habits over the past 50 years. The United States produces nearly 40 percent of its annual spice needs, and imports the rest. Growing Over the past half century, domestic consumption of spices has nearly tripled from 1.2 pounds per person per year in 1966 to 3.4 in 2012. There’s a relatively simple reason behind the exponential popularity of spice in the U.S.

“Rising domestic use of spices reflects growing Hispanic and Asian populations, a trend toward the use of spices to compensate for less salt and lower fat levels in foods, and heightened popularity of ethnic foods from Asia and Latin America,” explains the report.

Nate Silver's statistical blog FiveThirtyEight took an in depth look into the report, creating several unique graphs that illustrate which spices have become more popular over the past years and those that have been left out of modern recipe books.

Pepper and paprika have seen huge increases, while celery seed is on the downturn, along with nutmeg.

FiveThirtyEight notes that aside from foreign influences on the American culinary scene, medical trends and availability of certain spices over others have also contributed to the domestic rise in spice use.

Tumeric, for example, had been rising and falling in popularity before 2004. But as doctors and medical journals began chronicling the spice’s health benefits—it can reportedly help everything from joint and stomach pain, to diabetes prevention—its use increased nearly 70 percent in 2011. Ginger is another spice with rapidly growing usage thanks to touted health benefits.

Chile peppers have exploded in popularity over the past several years but so has production. Chefs like Rick Bayless and Bobby Flay, who both rose to the top of the celebrity chef status with their Southwestern inspired fare, have also inspired domestic cooks to spice up their dishes at home.

So what about those once-popular spices that have been pushed to the back of our kitchen cabinets? 

FiveThirtyEight is not sure but cites an interesting fact about the licorice flavored caraway, anise and fennel. The availability of the anise and fennel has grown exponentially since the 1950s but caraway's has slid. Perhaps rye bread and is falling out of favor with American palates.