Recently I had a very interesting translation assignment that entailed adapting some recipes for a Korean hot sauce for the Spanish market. It did cross my mind that the Koreans would find it difficult to get the Spanish to slather their largely non-spicy food with lashings of fermented sweet-sour hot sauce the way the Brits and Americans do.
The number one food in the UK is curry, but while some people love the dangerous sensation of chewing and swallowing a mouthful of something peppery others can’t bear it. Capsaicin is the chemical that transforms food from bland to blazing, and our strange obsession with it is not shared by other species of the animal kingdom. Hardly surprising when the effect of some chili pastes has been compared to that of tarantula venom!
In the West we associate spiciness with Mexican, Szechuan, Thai and Indian food, but capsicum is an essential ingredient in endless cuisines and is packed with nutrients and health benefits which make it an effective treatment for conditions like arthritis and diabetic neuropathy. This superfood also unblocks the nasal passages and attacks free radicals and it isn’t even fattening. It also makes the old bangers and mash and shepherd’s pie a dash more interesting.
So how is the spiciness factor measured? With the Scoville rating, which ranges from a mere 100-500 for a weedy pepperoncini to a gut curdling 1.56 million for the world’s hottest pepper, the dreaded Carolina Reaper. I can’t even imagine how that must feel! A tip. Wear rubber gloves when handling chilis. I once bought some Scotch bonnet chills from an African market, cut them up, washed my hands then touched my mouth and burnt my lip.
What should you do if you order something that’s too hot? Drinking water just makes it worse. Your best remedies are drinking milk, eating ice cream, yoghurt or sucking a sugar cube. Sugar free mint gum is also helpful.