HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Chili - Overkill!

First let me say I LIKE chili - but especially the flavors from chili other than just the heat.

The aroma from a Habanero is intoxicating - similarly with an Ancho, Guajillo, etc.

But now the simple heat from chili has seemed to have taken over the world. It's everywhere and in quantities that absolutely STIFLE other tastes. And peppers are being used that are devoid of any other taste than HEAT.

It's a big game on YouTube - who can show the most self-inflicted agony.

Capsicum in all its varieties has the effect of ENHANCING all kinds of other flavors - but you go over the tipping point - the result is simply a torture test.

The now ubiquitous Sriracha is not doing much to help the situation.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. 'chili' - are you talking about the beef stew (Texas bowl of red), or the peppers (Capsicums)? Many Americans try to distinguish between the two with spelling, chili v chile. Though there's also the British 'chilli'.

    3 Replies
    1. re: paulj

      Sorry - referring to the category of 'hot' peppers -

      I've noticed the spelling itself doesn't often help as it varies with region --

      eg: from Wiki -- "Chili pepper, the spicy fruit of plants in the genus Capsicum; sometimes spelled chilli in the UK and chile in the Southwestern US, including with reference to the derived products:"

      1. re: jounipesonen

        and 'capsicum', used in a non scientific sense, in the UK means the mild bell pepper.

        Sure there are threads on Chow reporting the latest 'hottest chile', and threads asking how to order authentically hot food. But there also threads how to use the milder Mexican peppers like ancho, in posole or chili. And questions on what to use in Europe when they can't find the Mexican ones.

        1. re: paulj

          The word "capsicum" is also used in Australia (like the UK) to mean a mild bell pepper. However, I have never heard it used that way in North America.

    2. It's all relative, though.

      Habaneros, to me, have zero heat. None. It wasn't until I had a ghost pepper - bhut jolokia - that I experienced real heat in a pepper. Of course, I've had a few spicy dishes, but they were only ever mildly spicy, even after the addition of several tablespoons of Sri Lankan chilli pepper.

      I have no problem tasting the flavour of the peppers, and it in no way stifles other flavours for me. I know many others, like my husband and probably most other people in Sri Lanka, south India, Thailand, and so on, for whom this is likely also the case.

      12 Replies
      1. re: LMAshton

        Where does the Scotch Bonnet fit in? Is it hotter than the ghost?

        1. re: mucho gordo

          It's much closer to a habanero - in flavor and heat.

          1. re: MGZ

            So, the ghost is hotter than the scotch bonnet which was supposed to be the hottest?

            1. re: mucho gordo

              We are well beyond both of those now when it comes to hottest chili in the world. With crossbreeding etc it seems there is a new "hottest pepper" every 6 months or so now.

              As far as I know the current reigning champion is the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion

              1. re: twyst

                Aside from the chili used in Thai food, habanero is as far as I go. I'll use it sparingly unless it is mixed with sweet.

            2. re: MGZ

              I thought scotch bonnets were the same thing as habaneros.

              1. re: EWSflash

                They're very similar, but there supposedly is a biological difference. I've never done a taste test to see how the biology translates to the palate.

          2. re: LMAshton

            I think you should try better, or fresher, habaneros. Like mass market jalapenos, many of them seem to have been dumbed down, but I have grown some that would be a three and a half or four heat to a bhut's five. Zero heat? I mean, most of the peppers used in Southern Asian cuisines are lower on the Scoville scale.

            Ultimately, I agree with you. I can't help, however, wondering about the quality of some of the peppers you have tried or the fact that you must be part deity.

            1. re: MGZ

              I don't find the peppers in South Asia to be hot either, by the way. Or the chilli powder, really. I prefer the Sri Lankan chilli powder because it has more heat than what I find elsewhere, but it's also that I like the flavour more. And the heat difference - well, other chilli powders, and for that matter cayenne and paprika, sit at a zero for me while the Sri Lankan chilli powder has at least some heat, although not a huge amount.

              I've tried a lot of habaneros. Some fresh, some dried, and in hot sauces and the like. I doubt it's the habaneros. I'm just a bit of a freak of nature. :)

              1. re: MGZ

                I agree with you that hot peppers normally available have been dumbed down, I've ruined a batch of jalapeno tequila because the jalapenos weren't hot and lent a weird watery flavor to the tequila. So I started growing my own. Problem solved. I hate it when something is so hot that you can't taste anything but the heat, I'm not a masochist, but I love hot chiles.

              2. re: LMAshton

                Genetic or aquired?
                For the vast majority, Habaneros have a LOT of heat

                1. re: scubadoo97

                  Genetic. I've always been this way, as have my sibs. My husband is like this as well, by the way.

              3. I'm a chilehead, but I have zero interest in that Youtube idiocy. Sadly, idiocy of all stripes is now the norm throughout society. But the consumption of extremely hot foods is not inherently idiotic. Make sense?

                4 Replies
                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                  I would have guessed that chili + overkill are not consecutive words in PK's lexicon...:)

                  1. re: Veggo

                    You guess correctly, Veggo. That said, I recently made an Indian hot and sour soup containing a full tablespoon of Irazu Ghost Pepper hot sauce that came perilously close to overkill. The Khantessa took one dainty sip, gave me a Satanic glare, pushed the bowl aside, and grabbed a plate o' samosas!

                  2. re: Perilagu Khan

                    Well put, PK. I love hot dogs, but I see no reason to see how many I can choke down in three minutes. As to chiles, gimme heat, lots and lots of heat - sweat inducing, tongue tingling, endorphin producing heat, but remember that preparing great food, the world over, is predicated upon the notion of striking balance.

                  3. This isn't new.
                    Back in my restaurant days we had a subset of customers that were definitely into self punishment. Young military guys would come in and order spicy bulgogi or spicy pork and have me make it as spicy as possible.
                    I would watch them eating with tears running down their faces, sweat oozing from them and forming rivers, faces beet red, and drinking nearly a gallon of ice tea or water with their meal.

                    Then there were the one or two who truly enjoyed the high spice levels with no apparent effect.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: hannaone

                      Never been in the service, but I've certainly gone the hot route in restaurants.

                      Chuffed a plate of something called Dragon Chicken at a Thai restaurant many years ago and ordered it at spice level 10. The waiter cautioned me that white people don't order dishes at heat level 10. I said bring it on. He did. I finished it and got to sign my name in a book along with maybe 15 other people whose names had 20 syllables.

                      The chef at my favorite local Indian restaurant knows me by name because of my fedora and my love of the hot and spicy. He takes great delight in preparing dishes for me at the heat level he personally enjoys.

                      Sadly, I've been unable to find a local joint willing to make hot wings to my satisfaction. Nobody will make them hot enough.

                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                        I do the same thing regarding make it 15 on the 1 to 10 scale. It's a standing joke in the couple of places I frequent and the cooks will correct a new server when he/she tries to "Tone down" my request to "American" levels.

                        There is a difference though between those who enjoy the heat and flavor, and those who are showing their "Macho" by enduring pain instead of enjoying flavor.

                        1. re: hannaone

                          Well, I can't claim machismo is entirely absent from my antics. ;) But in addition to showing I can tough out the heat, the food also has to be delicious. It's the combination that matters.

                          No way in hell I'd film myself choking down a bih jolokia and then post it on Youtube. There's not gustatory glory in it.

                          1. re: Perilagu Khan


                            This reminded me of an incident at my most regular haunt. One of the cooks decided to see just how hot I could take a dish and really poured on the pepper. The entire restaurant was overcome by the fumes as they came off the stove top. People were coughing, sneezing, eyes were tearing.
                            The dish was brought to me and to show the cook I could not be "out hotted", I managed to get it down. Shows I'm not completely immune to the "Macho" thing - that was one hot dinner.

                            1. re: hannaone

                              Heh heh. I've experienced those toxic fumes, too, although, alas, never in a restaurant! Some of my own concoctions require a gas mask to prepare.

                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                Years ago I tried to make chile oil - by adding chile flakes to too hot oil. The fumes were painful.

                        2. re: Perilagu Khan

                          I got that at restaurants in Sri Lanka all the time. I'd tell them I can handle the heat, the husband, who's Sri Lankan, would tell them I could handle the heat, they'd still bring out watered-down at spice levels for western white people. Could. Not. Win.

                          1. re: LMAshton

                            Yeah, what are you gonna do? Just grin and bear it, I spose. They mean well.

                        3. re: hannaone

                          In addition to the "macho factor", eating really hot foods leads to a release in endorphins. It's like a mild drug to some.

                          1. re: twyst

                            True, indeed. It's a perfectly legal and healthy buzz.

                        4. I agree. The hottest chiles contribute less flavor, because they are necessarily used in smaller quantities. Too much of the hottest chiles is just a macho thing, in my opinion.

                          As for sriracha, it's the new ketchup, and has about as much class.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: GH1618

                            I have found that to "get" the flavor from the "hotter" chiles, be they habanero, Scotch bonnet, bhut, Thai birds, etc. they need a proper compliment. Even just trying them with fresh, in season, melon chunks will permit a better appreciation of their nuances. It's kinda like the way the "right" glass of wine can help pronounce the subtleties of flavors in a dish.

                            1. re: GH1618

                              "As for sriracha, it's the new ketchup, and has about as much class."

                              Maybe less???

                              1. Ya. Hot for the sake of hot is of no interest to me.

                                I also believe that most foods should have just a hint of heat. Just enough to "Bloom" or open up your taste buds. That will vary from person to person of course.


                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Davwud

                                  In a way, it becomes sorta like a drug. Getting that "bloom" starts to require an increased amount.

                                  "I used to do a little but a little wouldn't do it
                                  So a little got more and more . . . "

                                2. <Capsicum in all its varieties has the effect of ENHANCING all kinds of other >

                                  I never feel spiciness can enhance other favors. It covers them -- in my opinion. A salty dish will taste less salty. A sweet dish will taste less sweet.

                                  13 Replies
                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    Interesting. I tend to see it oppositely, although I know it is possible to cauterize--figuratively speaking--the tastebuds, and this could prevent one's ability to taste a wide spectrum of flavors.

                                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                      Agreed. As I stated in my post above.


                                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                        I think you are talking about the long term effect of cauterization. There is certainly possibility of that, but I didn't mean that. What I mean is the short term effect -- at least for me.

                                        Let's say there a soup, and it take 1/2th teaspoon of salt to make it ever slightly salty -- very faint saltiness. Now, if I add chili powder or sauce to the same soup, then I can no longer taste the very faint saltiness which I once could. The spiciness overwhelms it for me. Same for sweetness.

                                        <I tend to see it oppositely>

                                        So it goes the other way for you? Spiciness makes you taste things which you originally could not taste?

                                        This is not to say the spiciness does not add another dimension of favor. That is absolutely not what I mean. It does enrich the overall experience, but does not "enhance" other favors for me.

                                        Kind of like adding a new music instrument to a sole instrument. It certainly brings out a new dimension and enrich the overall experience, but it does not enhance my ability to hear the original sole instrument.

                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          "So it goes the other way for you? Spiciness makes you taste things which you originally could not taste?"

                                          It can when it comes to the things that caused the "spiciness" in the first place. As I noted, it comes with a developed tolerance that permits tasting past the heat. Notions of pungency or numbness can actually enhance the tastes of other flavors.

                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                            There is, of course, a great difference between heat and spiciness. I'm talking about heat. And to my palate, heat, at levels most would count extreme, enlivens the taste receptors and thus heightens the other flavors in a dish. I think it's more what the capcaicin does to me than what it does to the other ingredients in the dish.

                                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                              Sorry for the confusion. I do mean the heat level from capsaicin. I do often interexchange the two terms: spiciness and hotness. In this case, I do mean like chili pepper hot.

                                          2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                            As suggested above, I think of it more as developing a tolerance.

                                          3. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                            I have to say - as the OP of that quote - that simple fresh ground pepper has an amazing effect on bringing out the original flavor of what it is put on - even just an amount where you don't notice the pepper itself. I have assumed a similar thing with the hotter varieties of other peppers - I might be wrong.

                                            1. re: jounipesonen

                                              Interesting. I guess I need to go back to do my personal experiment again, but I swear that I had an opposite experience when I tried it. Thanks for sharing your experience.

                                              <I might be wrong.>

                                              You are not wrong when it comes to your own experience. :) You felt what you felt. I need to doubt check my personal experiment. I may do that against tonight.

                                              1. re: jounipesonen

                                                I've always found that a dash of cayenne in a sauce or gravy - not enough to make it noticeably spicy, but barely detectable - serves to enhance the other flavors. Sorta wakes up the smeller and the taste buds. It works especially well in anything done with cream or butter.

                                                1. re: Will Owen

                                                  I submit that is the concept of pungency at work.

                                                2. re: jounipesonen

                                                  " that simple fresh ground pepper has an amazing effect on bringing out the original flavor of what it is put on -"

                                                  Black and white pepper really have nothing in common with chili peppers other than the word "pepper". They are really two totally different things when it comes to plant species/chemical makeup/etc.

                                                  1. re: twyst

                                                    True enough - I only meant that I have suspected that 'some' chili pepper was performing a similar function - but have not done enough 'A-B's' to be definitive.

                                              2. The chile overkill is part of the 'XXXtreme eating' silliness going on right now.

                                                Man v Food - how spicy can you handle it? There is nothing impressive about making a dish super spicy by adding industrial capcaicin extract.

                                                Let me see if I can 'out-bacon' your bacon dish! Extreme

                                                This sandwich has every single deep fried appetizer we make on it and weighs as much as a newborn elephant! Extreme!

                                                Our ice cream sunday has two ingredients - a 20 gallon bucket and a spoon! Extreme!

                                                Here on the west coast, even the Pho shops have jumped on the bandwagon making bowls with 5 pounds of noodles and 2 gallons of broth. Which is ridiculous. Pho is the worst dish for a size challenge. After 10 minutes, the noodles would become a bloated soggy mess. Who wants to eat that? I'm just glad they haven't combined it to become a Super-sized Super-spicy pho challenge.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: seamunky

                                                  Your post read like something from South Park. :D

                                                2. I never expected these kinds of reactions to my post.

                                                  The only conclusion I can come to is there are tremendous variations in a different persons' sensitivity to 'chili heat'

                                                  Much as it might be the 'taste' analogy of Hayakawa's semantics note of Cow 1 is not Cow 2.

                                                  We really have no way of KNOWING the heat experienced by various people. Personally, the tiniest amounts of Habanero creates excruciating burning sensations. At he same time I can make and enjoy a beans-beef-chili Columbo chili that will raise hairs on many friends and relatives.

                                                  I am sure there is also a 'tolerance build-up' going on but i still would be the actual 'sensitivity' indices are of very significant differences.

                                                  In any case, the responses do confirm that various species of chiles have a wide range of OTHER flavors than just heat - and it would be great if all the sauce and powder manufacturers would TELL what they have used - Ancho, Guajillo, Pablano, etc. (personally I find the Bird's Eye used in Asia to be the least 'other flavorful.' )

                                                  1. If a sauce or powder does not specify the kind, it probably isn't worth buying. Or if I do buy it, it is for the particular flavor that the manufacturer seeks, not for a flavor that I associate with a particular pepper. Mexican sauces are much more likely to identify the pepper. Specialty ones also.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                      The only 'including chili' products that tell the kind of chili that I have ever seen are ones specifying Habanero and Scotch Bonnet occasionally - no doubt appealing to the hot crowd. I have NEVER seen Ancho. Guajillo, Pablano, Aleppo, etc. specified.

                                                      (there are some telling too of the 'Naga Bhut whatever' super hot - thus only for the sensation gang)

                                                      In any case it's not consequential for me as I don't buy any 'chili included' stuff anymore.

                                                      1. re: jounipesonen

                                                        The Goya Salsita line specifies the peppers
                                                        Ancho, arbol, habanero, ...

                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                          Ironic - was just visiting Puerto Rico (2 wks ago) from Finland - and went into Pueblo specifically looking for possibly dried chilis of all those types from Goya - didn't find - but didn't look on labels of processed products.

                                                    2. Incidentally - when you American chiliheads show up in Cuba after the ridiculous embargo ends - you will find that Cubans don't eat a bit of it! Rather much of an anomaly for Latin America.

                                                      5 Replies
                                                      1. re: jounipesonen

                                                        I'd say most South American cuisines are pretty much devoid of chile. An Argentinian friend, for instant, won't touch the stuff.

                                                        1. re: jounipesonen

                                                          Cuba doesn't even have black pepper on the island. You have to bring you own pepper shaker to a paladar or government - owned restaurant. Most food there is frightfully bland.

                                                          1. re: Veggo

                                                            True - I brought a grinder and a supply of fresh black peppers for my Cuban friends - worked nicely for the meal I cooked them.

                                                            Agree with the 'bland' - surprisingly so - and has been for centuries I have understood.

                                                            It's as if Jamaica and Mexico were 1000's of miles away rather than within swimming distance so to speak.

                                                            1. re: Veggo

                                                              One more thing to add to my travel list

                                                              1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                is a nice traveler's peppermill. It includes a cover to contain the pepper crumbs.

                                                                and use this to carry two kinds of ground chile.