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So how much do you really enjoy spicy hot foods?

I know that many foods, such as Thai and Mexican, go hand in hand with spice and plenty of heat. How much of that heat can you tolerate before you realize that it actually alters the natural flavors of the food? In other words, how spicy hot can it be before you chug down an entire pitcher of water?

I've tried some dishes that are so hot that I simply have not been able to enjoy the food. Does one have to learn the art of appreciating extreme heat, or is my palate not sophisticated enough to enjoy such meals?

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  1. I think you can build up a tolerance to heat over time. But hot for hot's sake is sort of pointless, I think. Spicy but with good flavor, I can handle; and it runs in my family to have a pretty high tolerance for it anyway. But just hot is not enjoyable.

    BTW, if the hot comes from peppers, water won't put out the fire. Better to have a beer or some milk.

    9 Replies
    1. re: revsharkie

      When I hear criticism of "hot for hot's sake" my thought is that it's the same as "taste for taste's sake." It is it's own end, not a means to an end.

      1. re: amkirkland

        It is not "its own end." Hot for hot's sake is like salt for salt's sake.

        1. re: amkirkland

          That's not what I think of when I hear "hot for hot's sake". It's not a matter of different tolerence levels, it's a matter of trying to spice it up to your satisfaction vs. trying to spice it up as high as it will go.

          The best example I can give is from an experience in a recent chili cookoff - one contestent admited that his sole goal was to make the hottest chile by putting tons of hot spices in it. His goal had nothing to do with his personal preference, or trying to make the best tasting chili (flavor and spice).

          That is what I think of when I here "hot for hot's sake"

          1. re: michael23

            You're right, that some people just blow it out of proportion for that sole purpose, but for many there is an appreciation of that sensation. Also, many people who don't like hot foods refuse to understand that some really like how the heat interacts with the flavor.

        2. re: revsharkie

          Or douse it with an horchata or lassi depending on which cuisine the heat comes from, complimenting rather than just nullifying the flavors.

          1. re: revsharkie

            I really think that people who put down "hot for hot's sake" are using a Straw Man Argument. You are trying to trivialize people who can tolerate and enjoy very spicy foods.

            I'm pretty sure most people who enjoy spicy foods, like myself, do so because it tastes better, not just so they can feel the pain.

            Almost anyone can stand the heat if they trust the millions out there who are in love with very spicy foods. But like many things in life, it's an appreciation that has to be actively cultivated to reap the deep rewards. Your'e not born reading novels, touring art museums, or going to the opera, and you sure as heck are not going to bite into hot peppers without the belief that you are going to come away better for it.

            1. re: Steve

              Steve your response makes a lot of sense. I have to admit that as I've matured (not that much), I have learned to appreciate a bit more heat with my food. I remember as a kid watching my dad pile on the "aji" (mom's homemade hot sauce). I also remember giving it a try and breaking out in tears. Nowadays, I go to my parent's house and find myself asking mom if she's made aji. Of course, this hot sauce is not as fiery as some Thai or Indian, but nonetheless, I notice that I appreciate the full flavors of the food in addition to adding a nice kick to it.

              Maybe I can compare this to my experience with espresso. The first time I had a cup, I was ricocheting off the walls. Now, I can tolerate up to 3 cups per day, and it doesn't have the same effect. Sure, it wakes me up, but I no longer experience that wildly high sensation. I can say that I truly enjoy the flavor and aroma of the coffee.

              1. re: sandrina

                Coffee is a very good example of a food that most kids don't like the taste of and most adults do.

              2. re: Steve

                At the risk of sounding defensive, since I'm the one who introduced the phrase "hot for hot's sake" into this thread, I suppose I must respond.

                I am quite fond of spicy foods. I'm not arguing against any spiciness, and in my family we're actually more tolerant of hot things than some folks are. It's just that at some point the heat cancels out any other flavors, and that's where I'm afraid I must draw the line.

            2. I can stand a lot more heat, (which I do like) if there is not just a single food with a high level of chile added on my plate. Instead, if there are cool and hot foods on the same plate, so that you can mix and match I find my enjoyment of the food is greatly enhanced and I can also tolerate the heat much more readily.

              1. tony michaels, you make a valid point about the pairing of cool and hot foods. I've also found that I can tolerate more heat when there is something cool on my plate as well. As an example, I recently had some fiery buffalo wings, but the heat was extinguised a bit by the cool celery stalk accompaying it. This is about the only time I can chow down an entire stalk.

                1. I really enjoy spicy foods but I detest foods that are focused solely on HOT. I want heat and flavor. Accompaniments should balance the flavors of the spicy dish as well as enhance the heat provided by the chile. In Thai cooking, the cucumber and onion salad is perfect. The rice vinegar is a nice balance to the chile's heat but also cools the palate. Same with raita in Indian cooking. A nice spicy biryani accompanied by a lovely raita is a well balanced dish.

                  I've built up my tolerance over the years and use many types of chiles and hot sauces in cooking. There are many really HOT hot sauces out there that totally lack flavor (or just taste like pepper vinegar).

                  One time while dining in Mexico, the server brought out hot and mild salsas. After tasting the hot, I asked if they had something spicier. He looked puzzled so I said muy picoso. He cam back with a beautiful little dish of finely diced habaneros and onions in a mild vinegar. Perfect. He looked surprised as we both ate the salsa and didn't scream. The rest of the meal, we were treated like locals. It was pretty cool!

                  1. For a white girl, I have a pretty good tolerance of spice. I can't say I'm on par with Dee S (i.e., habaneros in vinegar....oy!), but I'm unafraid to order things marked as 'spicy' in various restaurants (like Thai, Indian, etc.).

                    I cook with a decent amount of peppers and generally appreciate what some heat can bring to a dish. There is a point, though, where somethings get just too hot and are no longer enjoyable. Thankfully, that doesn't happen to me, except with things like hot wings, where the "spice" is actually mostly acidity from vinegar.

                    1. I love spicy food so much, I bring my own chili and hot sauces with me just in case. I find I use them more at your typical American style restaurants, rather than an Indian, Thai or ethnic type place that knows how to use spices for heat.
                      I don't like my food so hot that it you can't enjoy the food though.

                      1. Does anyone find that as their tolerance for heat increases, that their ability to taste subtle differences in certain flavours diminishes?

                        I used to have an extreme tolerance to spicy foods (habanero type of tolerance) that was built up over the span of some years. I did start to notice though that non-heavily spiced foods started to taste bland, and i was missing out on a lot of the subtler flavours (Pho was a perfect example. I need glops of hot sauce to make it taste decent, missing out on the subtle beef, onion and anise flavours of the stock).

                        Anyone had a similar experience? I still enjoy spicy foods, but i dialed my tolerance back to the point where dishes like vindaloo are really at the top end of my tolerance. Still love them though... the slow mouth burn is a wonderful sensation, especially in the Canadian North when it's sub-zero out!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: yen

                          More heat - less tasting of subtle flavors? NO. I like some foods so hot I can blow on a napkin and set it on fire. On the other hand, most of my Japanese cooking emphasizes a wide range of subtle flavors with no heat and very little in the way of spices.

                        2. I can not handle ANY heat. Sometime the "mild" jarred salsa (Imus is the best) is too spicey. My only adventure into spice is some good horseradish on my gefilte fish.

                          That being said, on my last trip to Singapore, my host was so concerned about my aversion to spice that he told the maitre d' to be careful. By the end of my 3 day stay i was on par with everyone else, and doing better than som eof my SEA colleagues. Could have been my body clock was completely screwed up or i just didn't care any more.

                          Then back in the states my tongue went back to native and look at chiles with fear.

                          1. I adore spicy food but find that many ethnic restaurants don't serve dishes marked spicy as spicy enough...or maybe I'm used to food so spicy that somewhat spicy doesn't register to my taste buds anymore? I love Brick Lane Curry House in Manhattan for this reason...while I wouldn't eat the Phaal (which even our waiter said was hot for the sake of hot), their curries are, to me, the perfect balance of flavor and spice.

                            1. I agree that it's great when a dish have both wonderful flavor and a nice burn, but I think that once in while there IS something to be said about hot for the sake of hot. Ok, hold on, what is spicy food? From my knowledge (which I admit is only casual) it comes from capsicain which acts as an irritant on your tongue (and anywhere else you may be unfortunate to get it). This irritation leads to the release of endorphins in the brain, I think the same ones that cocaine acts on, although presumably to a lesser degree. In this sense I find that I literally get a "high" from spicy food, and small plate of something super-hot (i.e. so intense that I can't tell flavor subtleties) will give me as much of a buzz as a large martini. This also the reason why I LOVE ice water while eating spicy food, even though I know it doesn't kill the burn. The sensation of the cold on my tongue, followed by the rekindling burn (and the accompanying endorphins) is one of the greatest experiences ever. It's sort of like scratching a mosquito bite that really itches, except it doesn't leave a huge rash. Then again, maybe this level of enjoyment makes me more of a druggie than a chowhound.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: bworm42

                                bworm, You can push your endorphins to a true drug level with capsician. I entered a hot wing eating contest where we were required to sign a medical release. We were also required to wear plastic gloves for the last two wings which were cooked in a vat of Dave's Insanity sauce. (500,000 scovil units. A Jalapeno, with seeds, is 5,000 scovil units.) The effect of the first bit on the Dave's wings was almost exactly like putting your finger in a light socket. I could literally feel my spine snap and I became very light headed. Did a win? Not exactly. Points were lost for tearing, sweating, nose running, etc. (I did all three instantaneously.) So, yeah, bworm, you are a druggie, a capsician druggie but there are worse fates.

                              2. I find that heat is different from other flavours in that how one perceives it seems to be an acquired skill.

                                Had a thai spicy noodle dish recently that was really terrific -- it was good because while it was hot and built until I couldn't feel my lips, the other flavours were also pumped up (there was more garlic and way more thai basil in that dish than in most -- not at all a first-date dish) so all the flavours were intense.

                                When hot food is done well all the flavours are more intense -- and that's what I love most, strong flavours.

                                take this in the context of someone who's loving sinusbuster right now, because spraying capsicum up one's nose hurts so good in that organic-buzz kind of way

                                1. My husband and I both love spicy foods. My favorite is Thai because it's not just hot, it's also sour, salty and sweet. I'm fairly sure that tolerance for capsaicin increases with exposure so if you like hot foods and eat them regularly, you'll find yourself wanting more heat. DH spent some time years ago in Asia and found the food too hot to enjoy. Now he regularly downs huge amounts of superspicy Thai, Malaysian and Indian foods and asks for more. If the food is so hot that you can't taste it, don't eat it. What's the point?

                                  1. I love spicy food, and I find that even withi "spicy", there's an infinite variety of different spicy flavors, or rather that the spiciness brings out certain flavors more. For korean food, for example, spiciness in kimchi is different from spiciness in kko-chu-jang (hot red bean paste). The spicy + sweet flavor of kko-chujang is different from hot green pepper dipped in dwenjang (fermented bean paste). There's spicy+ sweet, spicy+ salty, spicy+sour, spicy+ etc..

                                    That said, I have eaten some really spicy food where I tasted nothing but the "hotness". It can be addicting at the time (and hard on your stomach) but after a while, I hardly ever crave just purely spicy stuff.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: koreankorean

                                      Good point about the different kinds of spicy. At our favorite Sichuan place there are lots of dishes with the red-pepper symbol next to them on the menu, but one of their signature dishes, the deepfried pork ribs with salt and "prickly ash" (Sichuan peppercorns) has no such warning. There was some puzzlement among us at first about this, and then we discovered that the odd mouth-reaction caused by the prickly ash actually tended to relieve the burn from the peppery dishes...which is just one more excellent reason to order them!

                                      1. re: Will Owen

                                        Pepper and chillies are two very different kinds of 'hot'. I adore black pepper and biting into a hunk of peppercorn makes my mouth tingle but it's not unpleasant - but I can't tolerate chillies in any shape or form. More than a tiny bit of chilli makes the inside of my ear canals itch insanely, and I lose all further interest in the dish. Paprika or a tiny dash of regular hot sauce in my bowl is as hot as I can go... (I've always made curries with all the aromatic spices, and just left the chilli out of the equation unless I add some sweet chilli sauce, which doesn't seem to have the same reaction.)
                                        I used to think 'spicy' meant aromatic, and it was a nasty shock to me to discover that in restaurants it just means HOT...)

                                    2. I tried to answer this yesterday but found myself rambling. I love hot hot hot foods. If something is billed as such by name, designation on menu, whatever I find myself anticipating the flavor only to be disappointed by an overly-hyped dish. In all truth I can count on one hand the number of times I've eaten things that were too hot to enjoy the other flavors of the dish. But I love HOT flavors. I'm the person who hunts down seeds for hot pepper plants, or tries to find the unusually hot varieties in the farmers market. They go in everything from sweets to chili.

                                      1. I love spicey foods and have a very high tolerence for it. I have to sometimes ask others if the food we're eating is spicy hot, because at low/moderate levels, I only taste the flavor.

                                        My threshold was crossed one time that I can remember. I was in a Thai restaruant that offered various levels of hot and I ordered their hottest; which was called 'make me cry' hot. It served for much amusment as everyone at the table, a large party of 12, tried a tiny bite and proceded to react like their mouth was on fire.

                                        I managed to eat the whole thing, but it took considerable effort and I really don't remember actually tasting any food. Just the heat. An interesting experience, but probably not one I need to repeat.