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CKatCook

Getting used to spicy food

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My DH and I are in the process of trying to get use to spicy food. Born and raised on mellow food we have always wanted to explore the spicier, hotter chillies. So we thought we would embark on testing and eating increasingly hotter chillies. So many recipes I pass up because of the level of spice that I would love to try....

But then we began to wonder, is there a good way to go about "training your palate" to be use to spicy food?

Thanks!


"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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I'd say, eat it often, and in the beginning, eat it with something to temper the spice. So if it's spicy Asian dishes, have lots of white rice on hand; if it's Indian, make some yogurt-based raita; if it's Mexican, I think cheese and crema are used to balance the heat, aren't they? I also had a friend who swore by fresh pineapple with Thai curries.

The more frequently you eat spicy things, the less you notice the burn. In the beginning, you'll have to use lots of the tempering agent to get through it, but as you go, you'll need less and less.

That's how it worked for me, anyway.

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You could try starting with the milder chiles and working your way up to the hotter ones. Polanos are medium hot peppers that have a lot of flavor, and a lot of applications, I think. If they seem hot to you, keep eating them until they seem mild. Then go up a step in heat to jalapenos or serranos.

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I agree that balance is the key- having something to temper the heat and making sure that the heat even makes sense in the application. If you are able to see how the dish fits into a meal that will give you a better idea of how that culture plays with the heat. Even in countries where chiles are used with abandon there is usually a sweet/sour/salty element to balance it (playing off the title of the book Sweet Sour Salty Hot by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duquid. Enjoy your adventure.

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Half of my ancestors are Scandinavians who are notorious for white foods. Spicy foods were really a challenge for me as a youth. But I think sour cream was a big discovery. Whether it's chili or nachos or anything else, I think putting spicy in sour cream is a safe way to introduce the flavors without the full-on assault. Now I can handle stuff spicier than my adventurous son can.

But I still don't get spicy for the sake of spicy.

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This is only common sense, but I'll say it anyway: work up gradually past your comfort level. Also, you might want to check out the different heat levels of the chiles you're trying. Plenty of info about the Scoville scale on the web. A rule of thumb I was taught: the smaller the chile, the more hot it's likely to be. It's as though all that heat gets concentrated into smaller and smaller packages.

When I was introduced to Southern Indian, then Thai food, I made sure to serve these incendiary dishes with plenty of rice or bread. The starches help temper the heat in your mouth. Some dairy products help too. I always kept a carton of yogurt on hand. In emergencies, I ran to the fridge and took a glug of milk. Drinking water feels cool and refreshing, but doesn't do anything to mitigate the chile oils that are spread in your mouth--go for the starches and yogurt.

Are you clear about handling chiles so that the oil doesn't accidentally get into your eyes or on your clothing? The chile oils are in the white vein or placenta inside the chile pepper. I don't use plastic gloves when cutting chiles (too clumsy), so I stay aware of where the chile oils are and wash down my hands, the knife, the cutting board and the counter with soap immediately after I am done. If roasting dried chiles, I find that a pinch of salt in the skillet helps keep the fumes down. I make sure the kitchen is well ventilated, too.

It's great you're expanding your palate!


Edited by djyee100 (log)

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+1 on the "tempering with something else" comments.

Keep whole milk around in case you accidentally partake too much for comfort. Water, soda, beer etc. just seem to spread the capsaicin around. Capsaicin is an oil and the reasoning is that the fats in the milk will help dilute the stuff.

(I'm not making this stuff up by the way; milk is what they give children who accidentally eat too much chile around here. I can tell you from firsthand experience that it works.)

If your hands get irritated from handling chiles the capsaicin has likely worked its way under the topmost layer of skin. Washing with soap isn't going to get it off. I've been told people who work with this all the time rinse their hands with bleach. I just coat my hands in oil, wash and repeat as necessary.


This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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I totally agree on building up to it gradually.

As the last poster said, dairy products are good for mitigating the bite. Try the Indian/Pakistani yoghurt drink called Lassi with your meals. Equally if you are having a hot curry, serve it with a raiti (yoghurt mixed with cucumber or banana).

The other point of making sure that the flavours are balanced in the dish is also of great importance. If you find a dish is too piquant, add some sweetness or creaminess to balance out the flavour. You are less likely to notice the heat if the dish is in balance.


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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I hope you are trying some of the sauces made from chiles! Tobasco, Cholula, etc. There are some great chipotle sauces. Habanero sauces can be hotter, but the flavor is excellent.

With all chiles, the white flesh surrounding the seeds contains the highest concentration of capsaicin. Removing the inner membranes is the best way to minimize the heat of a chile.

I cut a small piece of outer flesh from the tip of the chile and taste it before I decide how much to use and before I decide whether to include seeds or the inner white flesh. Sometimes the inner flesh and seeds is the only really hot part of the chile!

Know your chiles! This is a good site.

PS: my signature used to be "Try this jalapeño, son. It ain't hot!"


Banished from Chowhound; I like it just fine on eGullet!

If you`re not big enough to lose, you`re not big enough to win! Try this jalapeno, son. It ain't hot...

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Yes, the only real way is to build up gradually. I've certainly found my tolerance has increased over the years, as I've gotten used to eating increasing levels of spice.

Also, kinds of heat differ. Wasabi, for instance, doesn't linger. Same with Sichuan peppercorns. As a result, you don't get that increasingly painful buildup in the same way as when you're eating chilis. I found I was able to build up tolerance much faster with spicy Sichuan food than with Thai for that reason.

I also agree that just adding condiments like Sriracha and Tabasco and the like can help. For one, you can control how much you put in, but also they're so darn tasty in and of themselves it won't feel nearly as much of a chore.

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It's true of course that the dairy products - milk, sour cream, yogurt, etc. - are good at cooling the mouth if one overdoes one's attempts at heat.

But in my experience, the best, by far, is sugar.

My nephew is one of those folks that carries around a small bottle of pure capsaicin in order to heat up his food to his mouth-searing preference.

And he invariably says to his wife, "Here, try this, it isn't really hot." He doesn't do this intentionally to harm her; it's just that his idea of not "really hot" isn't anybody else's.

So she carries with her several of those small packets of sugar that you find on restaurant tables.

Does the trick every time.


I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Thank you everyone for your kind advice and responses. I am excited to go out and find different kinds of chillies and to begin experimenting. I have a bottle of siracha in the fridge, but never pulled it out, never had the guts to do so! :blink:

I am eager to get out and begin to shop for chillies, one thing I do love about Oklahoma is they have great Asian markets and I am looking forward to experimenting with the chillies I find in there (a section of the store I stayed away from before!)

Does anyone know of a good cookbook that uses all kinds of chillies to find good "balanced" recipes?


"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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sriracha is delicious really you have been missing out it is one of my addictions I use a bottle every week or two no joke

and yes sugar and sugar solutions and alcohol counteract the burn

beer isnt really enough of either to kill the burn.

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You know, you might start by going to your local supermarket and checking out the Thai section and buying a jar of sweet chili paste.

Pretty scrumptious stuff.

Not that hot. The sweetness really balances it.

Try it as a condiment with an old fashioned pork roast or something else you're used to.

________________________


Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Experimentation as mentioned before is a good plan. Also, the term "spicy" itself is very broad. Spicy does not necessarily equal mouth burning hot. There is a whole world of spices such a those used in Indian cuisine that will expand your universe without making your eyes water.

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I agree with the last post - spicy, to me, is not the same as hot. Spicy indicates food with spices in it, but not necessarily very chilli-hot. I think most people can manage spicy food without problems. Chilli-hot food is different.

I think it's different for everyone. Repeated exposure, gradually building up the amount of chillis you use and so on will definitely help. However, I think that some people just have different tastes. I was brought up with spices and chillies used in food in copious quantities, and I personally have a high chilli tolerance. If I say I don't find a dish hot, I'm not showing off - it just honestly doesn't seem that hot to me.

Some people get really hung up on how high their chilli tolerance is, and try and show off by making dishes as hot as they possibly can and then forcing themselves to eat it in a misguided attempt at bravado. To me, this is stupid. If you don't enjoy really hot food, you don't have to eat it. Use less chilli, mix with yoghurt, or whatever. It doesn't make you tough or brave if you can eat hot food, it just means that you are used to eating different kinds of food from other people.

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Does anyone know of a good cookbook that uses all kinds of chillies to find good "balanced" recipes?

I can't think of any cookbook to recommend that is only about chiles, but perhaps somebody else can. I suggest that you cook those spicy dishes that you've wanted to try for a long time, and adjust the chiles and other hot spices downward until you get used to them. One of my friends loves to grill in the summer, and she puts chopped fresh chile (jalapeno or serrano) in the marinade for meat or chicken. That's one way to put some chile in your cooking.

Are you interested in Thai food? Quick and Easy Thai by Nancie McDermott might be a good place to start. The author lived for years in Thailand, and when she returned to the U.S. and taught cooking classes, she realized her students couldn't find many ingredients and didn't have hours to prep dinner. So she streamlined her recipes. She's careful to say her recipes are Thai-style, rather than authentic Thai. McDermott's recipes use various ingredients for heat: fresh chiles (Thai, jalapeno, serrano, nothing esoteric), dried chiles, red chili flakes, curry paste (storebought or homemade), curry powder, sriracha. The heat level of her food is moderate, like a Thai restaurant in the U.S. I like her food, and I've cooked a bunch of recipes from the book. Googlebooks has a preview here:

http://books.google.com/books?id=RAP42dIAumoC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Quick+and+Easy+Thai&source=bl&ots=Htv52Z9Hi_&sig=HYP14SJHZDgXtujXtS5Um4vNkwQ&hl=en&ei=1Ek5TPyxHcP2nAfZx4GABA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false

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Does anyone know of a good cookbook that uses all kinds of chillies to find good "balanced" recipes?

I can't think of any cookbook to recommend that is only about chiles, but perhaps somebody else can. I suggest that you cook those spicy dishes that you've wanted to try for a long time, and adjust the chiles and other hot spices downward until you get used to them. One of my friends loves to grill in the summer, and she puts chopped fresh chile (jalapeno or serrano) in the marinade for meat or chicken. That's one way to put some chile in your cooking.

Are you interested in Thai food? Quick and Easy Thai by Nancie McDermott might be a good place to start. The author lived for years in Thailand, and when she returned to the U.S. and taught cooking classes, she realized her students couldn't find many ingredients and didn't have hours to prep dinner. So she streamlined her recipes. She's careful to say her recipes are Thai-style, rather than authentic Thai. McDermott's recipes use various ingredients for heat: fresh chiles (Thai, jalapeno, serrano, nothing esoteric), dried chiles, red chili flakes, curry paste (storebought or homemade), curry powder, sriracha. The heat level of her food is moderate, like a Thai restaurant in the U.S. I like her food, and I've cooked a bunch of recipes from the book. Googlebooks has a preview here:

http://books.google.com/books?id=RAP42dIAumoC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Quick+and+Easy+Thai&source=bl&ots=Htv52Z9Hi_&sig=HYP14SJHZDgXtujXtS5Um4vNkwQ&hl=en&ei=1Ek5TPyxHcP2nAfZx4GABA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false

I second the "Quick & Easy Thai Cooking" recommendation. She may have modified the recipes, but not so much that you feel like a total fraud (ie, Pad Thai isn't made with ketchup). And as for siracha - scrambled eggs is a great place to start. You can start with some on the side, then start mixing it into the raw eggs when you scramble them up before cooking. I usually have trouble detecting flavors other than heat (although I like heat) when tasting chilis, and siracha really has other flavors since it is actually a chili paste.

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It can only be purchased second hand through Amazon, but try Jessica Harris' Hot Stuff. Subtitled "a cookbook in praise of the piquant," it covers the world of cooking with pepper and chillies.


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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My brother and his wife are diehard "chile heads". My SIL could eat a slew of habeñeros and ghost chiles and it wouldn't faze her in the least.

Their daughter, my niece, however never developed a chile tolerant palate. She tried to train her palate by starting out with "Fiery Hot" Cheetos :laugh: but couldn't get beyond that. I think she's a super taster which may explain why she wasn't successful.


 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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It can only be purchased second hand through Amazon, but try Jessica Harris' Hot Stuff. Subtitled "a cookbook in praise of the piquant," it covers the world of cooking with pepper and chillies.

Numerous copies are also available through Abebooks, which is a consortium of used book sellers.

http://www.abebooks.com/

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A slightly contrarian position prefaced by a question. CKatCook, what happens when you eat something that's past your point of tolerance? Is it wildly unpleasant?

I ask because my turning point (after years of uber-bland Yankee food) was eating something with habaneros in it back in college. I had no idea it was going to be THAT HOT, of course, but the fruity complexity of it was what brought me back to chiles after my forehead stopped bleeding.

So why not just try to blow right by your base and see what happens?


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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On caveat from a chile head about developing really high tolerance for chile heat:

I have developed such a high tolerance for heat that I can no longer feel any burn from jalapenos and other chiles low on the scoville scale. This makes it extremely difficult for me to judge heat when I am cooking for friends with more delicate palates (i.e. sissy mouths). I often have to have someone else taste and suggest adjustments.

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Thank you everyone for your thoughtful replies. I lately have been experimenting w/ chillies and I am growing some Thai chillies in the garden now. I have eating straight siracha, I discovered as I tried it it was not as bad as I thought it would be. It has this nice garlicly taste that I am becoming addicted to, FAST. My DH is mixing it with ketchup for now. I dip fries in it. I will have to try mixing it in eggs next.

Chris - to answer your question, one day I got adventurous and grabbed some milk and ate a jalapeno. It was good. It had a tang to it, then the heat hit and it was HOT! But I did like it. Now I am looking into making some jalapeno poppers that are well liked here in the south.

I am going to hunt down those cookbooks....


"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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