(Inspired by a conversation with my roommates)
Jalapenos. Habaneros. “Ghost Chilies.” Pick your poison or, if you’re into that kind of thing, pick your favorite. Take a look around any megamart these days and you’ll find a plethora of hot sauces, spicy sauces, spices, etc. Heat is on the menu and it’s getting more popular these days, from diners to big restaurants. But why? Why the sudden influx of so many spicy items? I think there’s two reasons and they’re both connected.
Reason Number 1: Globalization.
Many believe that globalization is the main driving factor behind the sudden spike of spice. As the popularity of many Latin-style dishes increases, the demand for more and subsequently stronger spices grows. And there are a TON of strong spices/chilies out there. Here at the CIA, we’ve learned of the “Ghost Chili.” Sure it sounds fake, but it’s not. I’ve handled a specimen myself (gloves on of course). The Ghost Chili tops the Scoville Scale at a whopping 1,001,304 Scoville Units, earning it the title of Hottest Chili in the World. And before you ask, yes, there are hot sauces out there that feature this little devil. Chilies like the Ghost and it’s better known cousins, Jalapenos and Habaneros, all seem to find their way into just about any recipe these days. And there are people, myself included, who couldn’t be happier. My one guilty pleasure is a Jalapeno Cheeseburger made by a local diner in my home town. There’s just something about the extra kick that the peppers give that keeps me coming back for more. Which, leads me to my second point…
Reason Number 2: Over-Exposure.
The more hot stuff people eat, the more their palate gets used to the heat. So, culinary thrill-seekers need a bigger kick to get that rush back. The result? Hotter hot-sauces, hotter salsas, etc. Palates change and often will adapt to something they saw as foreign as completely normal. Many consider this a “dulling” of one’s palate, but it’s just the human body doing what it does best: adapt.
Finally, a word about Capsaicin. Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers and is what provides the heat that many love so much. Here’s a safety tip for those of you who either want to try the hot stuff or have literally bitten off more than you can handle. AVOID WATER. As much as you may want to reach for an ice-cold glass of water, don’t do it. Water only accelerates the effect of Capsaicin and you’ll only make it worse. Reach for dairy instead. Milk, ice cream, etc. The fat content will conquer the Capsaicin fire.