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Passion for Spice

As part of the Upsiide 2019 Food Trends study, we examined descriptors, i.e., words describing flavours and textures in food. Our goal was to find out which descriptors are popular in Canada and the United States, and how their popularity varies across genders and generations.

What did we find?

Stronger flavours are more popular with men; milder flavours are more popular with women

In both the United States and Canada, more men than women like the “Smoky”, “Spicy” and “Peppery” descriptors; and more women than men like “Light”, “Crisp” and “Creamy”. Previous studies have found that men have a stronger preference for spicy foods than women; and that preference for spicy foods is positively correlated with sensation seeking. Another possible explanation for this difference is that women are more likely than men to be “supertasters”. Supertasters have a higher sensitivity to taste due to a higher number of taste receptor cells on their tongues. But they also have a higher number of pain receptors on their tongues, which often makes them dislike spicy foods.

Millennials’ tastes are enigmatic

Interestingly, all the descriptors are less popular with Millennials, when compared with Gen Xers and Boomers. The only descriptor that is more popular with Millennials is “Gooey”, in the United States. The greatest gaps in popularity are for “Crisp”, “Zesty” and “Crispy” in the United States, and “Crisp”, “Mild”, and “Tart” in Canada. Gen Xers and Boomers are at least 10% more likely than Millennials to like those descriptors. Could it be that Millennials’ tastes are more bland? This seems unlikely, since the “Mild” and “Light” descriptors are also less popular with Millennials. Also, no previous studies indicate that. In fact, Millennials are known for being “foodies” with complex flavour palates who are interested in unique mouthfeel and bold flavours. A possible explanation for this discrepancy, then, is that the descriptors tested do not reflect the more sophisticated descriptors liked by Millennials.

People who like spicy foods are passionate about them

People who like the “Spicy” descriptor tend to choose it over other descriptors in trade-off situations, reflecting their passion for this flavour profile. Previous research has found that people who love spicy foods tend to be more loyal customers. A possible explanation for this is that the surge in endorphins experienced when eating spicy foods leads to a desire to experience that feeling again. Thus, once people start eating spicy foods, it’s likely that they will eat them more often.

Interested in viewing the full results and analysis?

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