The long journey of spices
Europe is one of the world’s leading import regions for herbs and spices. That is also particularly interesting for developing countries. The import of paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, ginger and garlic grew in 2020. This can be explained by the lifestyle trend of celebrating food not only as a source of nutrition but as a qualitative pleasure with a desire for good taste. Countless chefs on television and in social media pass on knowledge about exotic fruits and how to prepare them. Yet before spices treat our palates in Europe, large distances need to be overcome. Further, spices are subject to widest range of process-related treatments: a more accurate look at transport and the refinement of spices is very interesting.
The trend towards more individual, varied, and enjoyable food is reflected in the increased consumption of spices. Because spices and spice blends are what give dishes their unique, unmistakable taste.
In Germany alone 50% increasing
Over the past ten years, the import of spices to Europe certainly fluctuated, but increased significantly - in Germany alone by around 50 per cent to 147,000 tonnes (2020). There is a growing demand, also for more exotic spices, in this country. Whilst the per capita consumption of spices was 115 grams in 1970, in 2002 it was nearly 400 already and in 2020 even 600 grams per German citizen.
Finally, the Covid crisis has further stimulated the demand for spices. In a survey from 2020, 30 per cent of those questioned said that they currently eat at home cooked meals more often than before the crisis.
Around 35 per cent of spices are consumed in private households, whilst 65 per cent are processed by the food industry and catering sector. Food manufacturers have also picked up on customers’ preference for a greater variety of tastes. Especially in the case of snacks like crisps, cereals, and nuts there is a wide range of seasonings. Besides sprinkled-on seasoning, butcher’s shops also use spiced marinades and recently also rubs in many flavours.
Examples of trends in the world of spices
In the years up to around 2010, Italian culinary herbs and standard curry mixes defined the peak of exoticism in German kitchens. Trends then changed at an increasing pace, however. Great impetus comes from the countries of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine (the Levant). Cooking programmes on TV constantly outbid each other. Who ten years ago had heard of spices like sumac and cumin or blends like za’atar and baharat, which can now be found on the spice shelves in discount stores? They come from the Middle East and became popular among other things through the cook books written by the Israeli cook, Yotam Ottolenghi. Many of his recipes have been published in reputable magazines.
Rubs, in other words spice mixes for the dry marinating of barbecue meat, were imported to Europe from the USA. There, BBQ rubs have long since been giving barbecue meat a tasty crust and delicious aroma. The popular Magic Dust Rub in particular is now also spreading its scent across many European barbecue parties. Online you can find recipes and spice mixes suitable for domestic use. Yet convenience wins over many consumers and, as a consequence, spice traders also offer such rubs ready to use.
Turmeric – the spice that gives curry its typical yellow colour – has triggered a hype as a healthy superfood in recent years. It is part of Ayurveda, the traditional Indian healing system, and is considered to stimulate the appetite, heal wounds, lower cholesterol and be anti-bacterial. Turmeric latte, an ayurvedic healing potion, which is also called Golden Milk, contains warm vegetable milk besides turmeric and coconut oil. It is seen as a secret tip among health-conscious consumers in Europe.
Many vegetarians like smoked paprika, possibly because it gives vegetable dishes a meaty, spicy smoked taste. This list of examples can be continually updated. For each new nutritional trend, a cluster of certain spices comes together.
Growth market ensures plenty of creativity
The spice market has also been given a strong boost by new players, however, who push such trends and also set them. Start-ups fill up metres of shelves in the large supermarket chains in the meantime. They have used image marketing to increase the value of standard spice products to such an extent that they have become trend products with a lifestyle character. A feeling of natural quality, enjoyment, health and variety is presented to the consumer. Eye-catching forms of packaging insinuate these messages.
For marketing purposes, these days spice blends have fancy trade names, which no longer allow us to deduce the composition of the mixture. The right mixture for every dish is on offer these days, be it patatas bravas, stollen, Swedish meatballs or Jamaica jerk chicken. And the spice producers constantly return to the market with new creations.
Adding spice “clean” and “green”
The new arrivals have also made the most of the trend towards healthy food. Under the clean label they offer their spices without flavour enhancers, without artificial flavours, colourings and preservatives, without anticaking agents, without genetic engineering and without hydrogenated fats. The traditional spice manufacturers are successfully following suit. Many of them advertise with attributes such as vegan, vegetarian, lactose-free, gluten-free, kosher or halal. As a result, the market leaders now only use natural ingredients without flavour enhancers, preservatives and palm oil for the majority of their brands. For meat and fish product manufacturers there is a large number of specific spice blends, marinades, spiced breadcrumb coatings, pastes, sauces etc.. For bakeries, crisp and nacho factories there are special seasonings, for example, which are particularly stable when baked. They enhance snacks, potato crisps, wheat and corn tortillas and baked coatings whilst having a low fat content.
Market shares of spices today
By far the most popular spice in Europe is pepper. In 2020 it had a volume share of spice imports of around just over a fifth. Vietnam is the main supplier of pepper in Europe, followed by Brazil, Indonesia and India. After that comes ginger with 19 per cent. Unlike all other spices, however, ginger is imported in a fresh state. Also significant are paprika with a share of 12.1 per cent, the spices caraway, star anise, aniseed, juniper and fennel with 8 per cent combined, coriander with 4.1 per cent and cinnamon with 3.2 per cent. All the other spices together come to 32.2 per cent.
Table 4: Imports of individual spices to Germany in tonnes 
|Caraway, star anise, anise,|
juniper, fennel fruit
 Fachverband der Gewürzindustrie [Spice Industry Trade Association], market development of the spice industry in 2020
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