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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.