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Is harissa the Sriracha of 2016?

harissa bowl chiles

Editor’s note: With the New Year, Restaurant Business Online is adding a monthly report on menu trends, based on Technomic data and the observations of the researcher’s menu analysis editor, Lizzy Freier.  Look for the updates during the first week of every month.

Who could have predicted that Sriracha would be one of the hottest recent food trends of 2015? At first glance, the Thai chili hot sauce isn’t even easily pronounceable. Now that it’s caught fire over the last couple of years, not only do most consumers know what Sriracha is (and how to say it) but they are craving it on everything, from wings to burgers to sandwiches. As the industry gets inundated with Sriracha-topped everything, we need to ask, “What’s the next Sriracha?”

In my opinion, the answer is a resounding harissa.

The proof:

It looks like Sriracha

It’s human nature to judge and compare based on looks, and we definitely judge food and beverages on appearance. The fact that harissa—made from hot chiles, coriander, cumin, garlic, caraway and olive oil—is a bright-red condiment traditionally served in jars or bottles, similar to Sriracha, means that consumers will find it less intimidating to sample and embrace.

It’s from a trendy food region

We’re seeing interest in Mediterranean cuisine branching out to include North African fare. Tunisian harissa joins other trending North African ingredients, including Egyptian dukka and Moroccan preserved lemons.

It’s growing on menus

Technomic MenuMonitor data shows that mentions of harissa grew 11.3 percent from the third quarter of 2014 to the same period of last year. It has recently even penetrated top 500 chains: this year, Brick House Tavern + Tap launched a seasonal Moroccan Stacked Dip with harissa and Tender Greens unveiled a harissa-topped Falafel Sandwich.

So, where do we expect to see harissa in the coming year? Like Sriracha, harissa doesn’t need to be limited to ethnic dishes. It can easily be featured atop a pizza or spread like aïoli on a sandwich with any protein. I predict increased mentions at casual-dining independents and varied-menu chains in 2016.

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