Hotter and Hotter:
November 3, 2002 4:08 AM   Subscribe

Hotter and Hotter: The search for an ever more potent chile burn just got serious with The Source from Original Juan (fun flash here) at over 7 million Scoville Units. Not far to go now before pure capsaicin, at 16 million, becomes the condiment of choice. So is food becoming so unpalatable we need to set our tongues on fire first? Are our taste buds doing a Jonestown or what? (First link via Instapundit)
posted by Carlos Quevedo (20 comments total)
And I thought I was macho for putting a chopped Habanero on my tostada the other day . . . man, did I feel the pain, not once but twice (they don't remind you on the hot sauce bottle labels about the sensations at the egress ).
posted by palancik at 5:00 AM on November 3, 2002

So is food becoming so unpalatable we need to set our tongues on fire first?

No, it's just that some people who think taste is inhaling pure capsaicin are compensating for certain, uh, shortcomings, as it were. Those guys always have to "prove" themselves to those of us who don't care what they do. . .

In other words, you can't help people who have no common sense.
posted by mark13 at 5:06 AM on November 3, 2002

Eric Raymond's gender-based analysis of hot sauce use strikes me as particularly insightful. This is a good post.
posted by mcwetboy at 5:35 AM on November 3, 2002

A number of chili competitions have created a separate category
for the "super-hot" blends. That way, the lower Scoville sauces
can still be judged in the traditional manner - aroma, texture,
flavor characteristics, and aftertaste.
posted by Smart Dalek at 5:38 AM on November 3, 2002

More links and discussion on hot sauces can be found in this thread from January.
posted by Berend at 6:17 AM on November 3, 2002

Some tasty post left-overs: Here is a note on the chile/chili spelling, an interesting Texan recipe for Bad Attitude Chili and, last but not least, a recipe for Argentina's great contribution - chimichurri sauce. It is spicy and warm, South American and European, but not scorching - just delicious!
posted by Carlos Quevedo at 6:18 AM on November 3, 2002

No, it's just that some people who think taste is inhaling pure capsaicin are compensating for certain, uh, shortcomings, as it were.
real men rub it on thier tools.
posted by quonsar at 6:36 AM on November 3, 2002

If you have a low tolerance for pepper heat, all you will taste is the heat, which will override any flavor in what you are eating. If you have (a natural and/or developed) tolerance for the heat, it can accentuate the existing flavors and add its own unique goodness. Those who claim that the heat eliminates flavor are simply speaking from a perspective of ignorance, not being able to tolerate the heat themselves. We chileheads know better. For some of us, the world offers no better flavor.

(This is not to imply that there's much point in eating pure cap on tortilla chips, even if you can manage it. But one man's painful flame-out is another's tasty seasoning; when it comes to spice, all men--and women--are not created equal.)
posted by rushmc at 7:18 AM on November 3, 2002

"Extreme" hot sauces seem to receive the same treatment as "micro brew" beer. Rather than attempting to refine and improve on existing styles (ales, Weisses, stouts, pilseners, etc) we get things like hemp, coffee, maple beers, and even a chile beer, which seem to miss the whole point. Seems these self proclaimed "chile-heads" are more interested in stupid names and whimsical graphics for their hot products.
posted by sharksandwich at 7:38 AM on November 3, 2002

It's about the endorphins. I use chili pepper rushes to combat headaches, menstrual cramps, sinus congestion, and rainy day blahs. And yes, there is a difference in peppers, just as rushmc pointed out.

And yeah, marketing the stuff in cute bottles with whimsical graphics doesn't hurt. I wander through hot sauce stores with twin desires to taste and to collect.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:26 AM on November 3, 2002

Capsaicin is also a muscle relaxant.

I had severe back pain a year or two ago and found that eating spicy stuff really helped. I had always liked things hot, but now I had a medical reason to eat it.

Let me tell you, there's nothing like a piece of Wonder bread soaked in Habanero Tabasco to start the day!
posted by jeffbarr at 8:33 AM on November 3, 2002

yeah, damn, what's with the negative responses? and mark13, you are correc that *you* don't care, but obviously *they* don't care that *you* don't care or even if you exist.

Heehee, I never knew a beer snob before, sharksandwich. Btw is there a sharksandwich being eaten somewhere? I'd like to try it.
I think the spirit of these beers and chiles is just fun and pleasure seeking, and bein creative. Nothing wrong with that ;)

btw anyone have a good source for some good Belgian beer?
posted by firestorm at 10:15 AM on November 3, 2002

they don't remind you on the hot sauce bottle labels about the sensations at the egress

With names like "Flaming Asshole", "Buttburner", "Pain in the Ass", and so on, I daresay they are reminding you...

Chipotle rules my world. Smokey, dark flavour. Mmmmm.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:24 AM on November 3, 2002

I've never had much use for habañeros or other super-scorchers in my cooking. Plain old jalapeño peppers have a fantastic flavor when they're fresh, and they're hot, but not so hot that they can't add some great flavor to a dish before they become overwhelming. Habañeros and such just seem to add heat.

That said, if you're ever in Bloomington, Indiana, and if it's still around, go have a meal at the Snow Lion, a Tibetan restaurant (only one of a handful in the U.S.) that lets you choose how spicy your dish will be on a scale from 1 to 5; 5 is called the "chef's challenge". I ordered it one day (I'm usually a "3" man), curious about the kinds of sensations I could get my body to produce. The multiple, distinct, and clearly noticeable endorphin rushes were quite something.

I miss Bloomington sometimes. Fantastic restaurants for such a small town.
posted by boredomjockey at 11:00 AM on November 3, 2002

You mean. apart from the beer nuts? I'm moving tomorrow.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:12 AM on November 3, 2002

I've had some interesting experiences with peppers. I used to not be able to eat spicy foods at all. Then I read the chapter on peppers in Andrew Weil's The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon. I started building my tolerance. A few times while contemplating the heat sensation and not allowing myself to become overwhelmed by it I have started to feel a "dilation" of my senses similar to effects of small doses of psilocybin mushrooms.
posted by botono9 at 11:32 AM on November 3, 2002

I thought ESR's post was worthwhile, though I find it strange to define a history of hot flavoring in American foods without once mentioning Taco Bell.

I'm not an extreme chili-head, in the sense that I'm seeking out stronger and stronger sensations -- but I do like my food a lot spicier than almost anyone I know. I think it does create a tendency toward flavor inflation -- i.e. you can't stand a plain old baloney sandwich anymore; you've always got to get the pepper-jack cheese. But I don't think that's necessarily lasting, either. This is probably just a fad and will be marked, as has the micro-brew fad, by a return to basics and different approaches, while having permanently enriched the overall genre.
posted by dhartung at 12:16 PM on November 3, 2002

I'll second the reccomendation for the Snow Lion. It's still around and it's owned by the Dalai Lama's brother to boot. No shit.
posted by ttrendel at 12:40 PM on November 3, 2002

Habañeros and such just seem to add heat.

Again, it's all in the mouth of the beholder. I know many people who can tolerate habaneros just fine, and even some who subjectively perceive jalapenos as being hotter than habbies. American cuisine has traditionally been pretty mild; it's only recently that hotter spices and dishes have started to become a lot more popular. In other cultures, the norm for tolerance and expectation can be quite different.
posted by rushmc at 12:53 PM on November 3, 2002

Dang you, botono9, I was going to bring up The Marriage of The Sun and Moon... again. One thing I have read of late is that capsaicins burn out those taste receptors in our tongues for heat, perhaps permanently, which is why we can tolerate hotter and hotter sauces over time. I find this worrisome as I'm very inclined towards curries and such.

I once made one experimental dish with loads of habaneros, ginger and garlic, made it way too hot and not only did I break out into a sweat, but my eyelids were burning there for awhile--it was painful. I wonder if perhaps the the lymphatic system is involved with the way sweat beads on your face and neck when you eat a hot dish.

Another chapter in The Marriage Of the Sun and Moon is about the experience of eating mangoes fresh from the tree. There are hundreds of varieties in the tropics--we get four at most in our grocery stores. The varieties of mango eating experience--now that is something I would like to explore.
posted by y2karl at 2:02 AM on November 4, 2002

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