Photograph by Becky Harlan
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What's in your spice grinder?
Photograph by Becky Harlan
The Plate

Which Spices are the Nicest for 2016

Move over, hot sauce.

With the proliferation of food trucks and influx of immigrants from everywhere, American palates are finally getting more sophisticated. Even my grandma knows about Sriracha, smoked paprika, and fennel pollen by now.

And since we’re supposed to be eating less sugar, fat, and salt, we are always searching for ways to replace those ingredients with something healthier that still tastes good.

So we asked husband and wife team Ivan Fitzgerald and Monica Grover of Bazaar Spices in Washington, D.C. for a few recommendations on what seasonings are going to be hot in 2016. Here are their predictions.

Aji Amarillo. The appetite for heat in America is, quite possibly, insatiable (see Beyond Taste Buds: The Science of Delicious). After a couple of hundred years of primarily bland foods (Cajun and Tex-Mex exempted), the hunt for the hottest pepper has become something of a competition for thrill-seeking foodies. There’s actually a scientific reason the burn feels so good—it releases endorphins to ease the pain. Check out this video on the spicy chemistry of Sriracha:

But Sriracha may soon have a new competitor for its coolness crown. Enter aji amarillo, a tiny yellow-orange hot pepper used for centuries in Peru, says Fitzgerald.

It has a flavor that’s more fruity than other chiles, yet it still brings the heat. “If there were a chile to taste like sunshine, this would be it,” says Saveur magazine digital editor Max Falkowitz in a piece for Serious Eats a few years back.

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A few dried peppers from Peru called aji amarillo, awaiting your stew. Photograph by Becky Harlan

Aji amarillo and other Peruvian chiles form the backbone of Peruvian cooking. Aji Amarillo is found in Peru’s popular Causa Relleno con Pollo, and is best found in the United States dried or in paste form.

Khmeli Suneli. Say it with us: koo-MELLY-sue-NELLY. “We’ve had Indian and Persian, the next trend will be hyper-local,” Fitzgerald says, meaning spices very specific to their geographic locations, like the Republic of Georgia, where this fun-to-say spice blend comes from.

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Khmeli Suneli, a distinctive spice blend from Georgia, complements meat and pretty much anything else it touches. Photograph by Becky Harlan

Khmeli suneli is the quintessential seasoning for Georgian kabobs and stews. It’s a strong sour-fruity-spicy seasoning that brightens anything it’s rubbed on. Bazaar’s blend contains utskho suneli (Georgian blue fenugreek), Georgian saffron (dried marigold), Georgian bay leaf, red pepper, basil, fennel, parsley, celery, and coriander.

Schizandra berries. These deep rose-colored fruits have a tangy flavor and are used in cooking primarily in China, where their name means “five taste berry,” because it incorporates five flavors (sour, salty, sweet, bitter, pungent). In dried form, they have been enjoyed in tea for centuries in its native China and nearby regions in Russia, where it grows on the vine. Schizandra berries are credited with improving health and vitality, as well as endurance, according to reviews of Soviet studies for the last 40 years.

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Schizandra berries are considered a potent medicine in China and Russia, but bartenders are looking at them for their intriguing bitterness. Photograph by Becky Harlan

But health may not be the only reason this berry is going to be popular this year. Fitzgerald says bartenders are coming in from all over the city to find the berries to make homemade bitters to fuel the cocktail craze.