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Mar 25, 2014 12:21 PM

is "spicy" finally getting spicy?

Okay, though there still seems far more items on menus described as "spicy" which don't even register on the spiciness scale, is it just me, or is "spicy" really getting a lot spicier?

I was at a brew pub earlier this weekend and got a "spicy" aioli on some fries. "Sure. 'Spicy.'," my mind said. But it was darned hot!

And I just had a burger with green chilis and it blew my mouth off. I did not expect truly spicy chilis. I've noticed other examples of spicy actually getting spicier.

Or does someone's heat tolerance change over the years?

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  1. I think that the my spice tolerance is a little less than it was in my 20's. But I still like more heat than most people.

    I am always (pleasantly) surprised when I find something labeled 'spicy' at a non-ethnic restaurant that is actually spicy to me. I think it happens more today than it did 10 years ago.

    1. It is the opposite for me - at 64 I can tolerate much more spice than at 20. FWIW fresh chilis vary in hotness depending on the season.

      4 Replies
      1. re: kagemusha49

        Very interesting about the change in tolerance with years.

        By the way, the chilis I had were green Hatch chilis. I've had them quite mild before, but not this time.

        1. re: EarlyBird

          My two sets of grandparents have diverged in spice tolerance; one side has been eating spicier and spicier food, to the point that most people can't eat it. The other side sometimes rejects food as 'too spicy' even if I literally taste no spice in it. Family dinners are fascinating.

          It's possible that spice tolerance increases or decreases slightly with age, but I think psychological factors dwarf physiological ones. Whatever preferences people have in youth just seem to become magnified and entrenched in old age.

          1. re: Scrofula

            my grandfather grew his own hot peppers, and every year he'd take the hottest ones and save the seeds and plant them separate from the others. They were his and his alone because the heat level was so much that nobody else in the family could tolerate them.
            At dinner the rest of us would be eating the "mild" peppers and he'd have his "jets"
            his face would turn read and beads of sweat would form on his forehead, but other than that he never outwardly seemed to be affected by the heat

      2. I think Perilagu Khan has spread the word. He is the Johnny Appleseed of heat.

        5 Replies
          1. re: Perilagu Khan

            Why a Spanish version of John--why not a Thai one? Especially considering that the vast majority of Spanish-speaking country cusines are not at all spicy--certainly less than US food.

            1. re: Wawsanham

              PK knows I lived for some years in the Yucatan, where habaneros reign supreme.

              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                Always did feel we had some kind of special connection.

            2. I'm sick of spicy foods just being so over the top.It's never a balanced spice. So if it's so freaken hot (spice) that the food is supposed to be good. Why is this ? I can't taste the food.

              4 Replies
              1. re: emglow101

                Because not everyone is the same. Lots of people have high spice tolerances. That food you think is "so freaken hot" isn't hot at all to people like me. I taste the flavours behind the heat just fine. And, in some dishes, if the heat isn't there - heat as in how I feel heat - then it's severely lacking.

                1. re: emglow101

                  Paul Prudhomme has said that if the "heat" is the first thing you taste, it isn't seasoned correctly. Heat should build.

                  1. re: emglow101

                    I agree with you. All flavor s should be nuanced. Not heat for the sake of heat.

                  2. In what region?

                    Seriously, this is a hugely region-dependent thing. In places like Sri Lanka, South India, Thailand, Malaysia, the food has always been spicy. Nothing has changed.

                    As for personal heat tolerance goes, I doubt mine has changed much, if at all. I've always tolerated highly spicy foods. I can eat Sri Lankan food like a Sri Lankan, or even hotter than some Sri Lankans, really.

                    14 Replies
                    1. re: LMAshton

                      I'm talking about the West generally, North America more specifically. For instance, where I could not get a decently hot curry 10 years ago - what was called "hot" on the menu barely registered as hot - now seems to be changing. I luckily CAN get some nice, hot curry. I like that.

                      I'm noticing more and more that restaurants seem to be upping their heat game.

                      1. re: EarlyBird

                        I think it still depends on where in the US you are. The man and I were in Indianapolis for a car show and were continually told that "the salsa was made nice and mild," and "don't worry, it's not too hot." I'm sure there are people in Indiana with high tolerances for hot food and who enjoy hot foods but at the mainstream places we were for the 5 days we were there we were continually "assured" that the food would NOT be spicy. (Coming from Southern California were were very disappointed.)

                        1. re: weezieduzzit

                          I too, would be disappointed. Two So Cal spice lovin' car guys at a car show. Sounds like a fun trip.

                          1. re: EarlyBird

                            All of us gals that go are car and spice loving, too!

                              1. re: EarlyBird

                                Sinw I live in California I wouldn't go to the middle of the country expecting good Mexican food. Play to their strengths.

                              2. re: weezieduzzit

                                If a waiter told me that, I'd take it as a grievous personal affront.

                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                  As guests we quietly bit our tongues, they tasted better than much of what we had there. I'm sure there is good food there but I think you have to know where it is and have someone local who likes it to show you. If we go again I'll have to tap the brains of some 'hounds there (though many of us stopped going because 5 days of going out drinking without good food to balance it leaves one feeling pretty lousy and who wants to do that over and over again?)

                                  1. re: weezieduzzit

                                    You might be able to score some decent cue in Hoosierland. I know Missouri is a much better than average BBQ state, so why not Indiana?

                              3. re: EarlyBird

                                When my wife and I first came to the US from England 40 years ago, we discovered that the chili powder sold in the supermarkets in California had absolutely no heat. We were trying to make a decent curry - we finally found some dried chilis that had some heat. The situation has changed but there are, i guess, still restaurants that calibrate their heat from a base of zero.

                                1. re: kagemusha49

                                  I know that England is renowned for its Indian food. I've heard numerous times that if you want the best Indian food in the world, go to London. But I wonder, 40 years ago, besides the Indian curries, was spiciness/heat a common trait of food over there? I always associate English food with the stereotypically bland cuisine. (I know, I know: there is a lot more to it than kidney pie and bangers and mash.)

                                  1. re: EarlyBird

                                    Indian food was pretty much the only hot spicy cuisine back then in England. Chinese restaurants might have offered a mild chinese curry. That's why, in a separate post, I said that my tolerance for hot spice is much higher now than then. About the only strong spice used in English cooking was English mustard (which is LOADED with horseradish)