Hot and Spicy

Today is International Hot and Spicy Day. I love hot and spicy food. Not so hot that you can’t taste the food, but that level of hot that just adds a certain level of “oomph” to a dish.

I think every cook is probably familiar with the Scoville scale, the measurement for the level of heat in a chili pepper. The hottest pepper out there, right now, is the Trinidad Morunga Scorpian. According to the International Registry of Scoville Heat Unit Tests (They need a better name. Well, at least a shorter one), this pepper has between 1.5-2.2 million Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Just for comparison sake, the bell pepper has 0 SHU, the jalapeno pepper has between 3,000 and 5,000 SHU, and a Habanero chili has between 100,000 and 175,000 SHU.

I have a feeling that biting into the Trinidadian pepper would be the equivalent of having my eyeballs pushed to the back of my head with a hot poker. Neither of which do I want to experience anytime soon.

Luckily, there are some less violent ways to add heat to a dish without the extremes of intense Scoville heat units. Chilies are the natural choice. If you want to keep things mild use the Anaheim or Poblano pepper. For medium spice, stick with the Jalapeno or Chipotle pepper. To kick it up, try the Serrano, Cayenne, or Habanero.

If you would like to add heat to a dish without the chilies, try adding
•    raw Garlic
•    raw Ginger
•    horseradish
•    red Onion
•    daikon radish

Removing heat
If you haven’t started the dish, there are a couple of ways to control the heat:

  • Add spicy elements to the dish slowly. Start with a little bit and then work your way up. Keep in mind that heat builds over cooking time.
  • Remove the pepper from the finished dish. The longer the pepper sits in a dish the more the capsaicin is going to penetrate all of the food, seemingly intensifying that heat.
  • Remove the seeds and any white membrane in the pepper pod. This will keep the pepper flavor and intensity while removing much of the heat.
  • Roasting the pepper first, before adding to a dish, will help develop the natural sugars in the pepper, which will tame the heat.

If you have already cooked a dish, but it is too hot, all is not lost. Try fat, alcohol or sugar to help tame the heat. Adding a little of any of the three will help tame the hot.

Sugar is especially helpful if you are in a restaurant. Most restaurants keep sugar packets on the table. If something gets too spicy, pour a packet on your tongue and let it dissolve. It is the quickest way I have ever found to tame the heat on a too spicy dish.

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