Spicy Food | Why Is It Hot?

This post was originally published August 2013. The images became unlinked which prompted me to republish. If you saw it before, thanks for your visit. If this is your first time, I hope you enjoy it.

Do you like hot and spicy foods? I do. What is the ingredient that makes a food HOT? During the last years of teaching high school physics, I was fortunate to have a colleague who taught some of the sections. He was a lot of fun. We always enjoyed making physics relevant and enjoyable for the kids regardless of the topic. After our unit on heat and calorimetry, we decided to add a lesson on spicy hot foods. He had friends in Indiana who grew peppers on their farm. In the summer, he would go help them harvest and come home with some amazing peppers and hot sauces. He put together a presentation to share with the kids in our classes. The graphics here are from that lesson. Thanks to my colleague, Matt, for permission to use them.

A spicy shout-out to fellow blogger Frank for his post On Hot Sauces at his blog A Frank Angle. His post prompted me to write this. Thanks, Frank.

Of courses, some students didn’t believe it when told not eat too much of a hot sauce. We usually had some samples for them to taste if they wanted. They ranged from jellies, to a nice chili, to a cheese sauce dip. A couple of the sauce samples we had out were extra hot. They were not to try more that a tiny drop on a toothpick. Well, some had to show off and prove they had more testosterone than anyone else. Those kids sometimes ended up in the bathroom or gulping our gallon of milk as fast as possible.

How about you? Have you tried these? Do you have some funny stories of hot foods? Let’s hear them.

Thanks for stopping by.

28 thoughts on “Spicy Food | Why Is It Hot?

  1. I think the Habaneros are used here, but I don’t know to what extent. Puerto Rican hot spices may be used but for “sofrito” (cooking seasoning), for adding flavour while food is cooking. I read some time ago some of them are also used for clearing up stopped-up sinuses. Great post!

  2. Nice post.
    One of my favorites is/was fermented red peppers (Sold in grocery stores in the Netherlands as indonesian-style “Sambal Badjak”). A warm heat, a bit sweeter and “broader” in taste compared to the sharper, more focused fresh ground chili peppers (Sambal oelek).
    Mostly a memory now as l haven’t found it yet in local stores here in the sunshine state.

  3. My first experience with hot peppers was in the fall of 1967 when I was in a Peace Corps training program to go to Honduras. Near the end of the program, which took place in San Diego, we were sent to spend a few days with families across the border in Tijuana. Sitting down to a meal with my guest family one day, along with the food I found a small green pepper on my plate, and not knowing what it was I bit into it. If I can mix cultures, I’ll say that my pained reaction was the equivalent of Oy vey!

    The part of C18H27NO3 that I like best is NO.

    • It isn’t for everyone. Like a lot of things, it is an acquired taste. Melanie makes a chocolate cookie that has some heat to it. Those are very good.

  4. Something about this subject is just pure fun, isn’t it? Years ago I worked at Marriott’s Great America (now under the 6 Flags). We had a new stand, selling nachos. People were often rude, pushing past each other, refusing to form a line. I well remember one gentleman who did this. interrupting the customer I was helping to demand if the green circles in a condiment tray were pickles. “Why yes they are”, I replied with evil glee. They were jalepenos….. 🙂

  5. Very Interesting. I love hot food, and now I understand better why. I believe it is also good against colds. And I particularly like the heat for breakfast as it seems to make breathing (which is easy enough) easier. Or maybe that’s just an illusion caused by the endorphins.

  6. I like spicy, but I’m not so fond of burning hot. When peppers are combined with other spices, the art (in my opinion) is getting a level of heat that still allows other flavors to come through. Jamaican dishes like jerk chicken qualify, or a good bit of Indian cuisine. And, of course there’s that Texas staple: candied jalapenos served with cream cheese. Just like plain yogurt with Indian food, the milk product helps to cut the sting.

    I’m sure you already know this, but I’ll mention that bird seed mixed with capsaisin is palatable for the birds, but considered nasty by squirrels. Apparently the birds don’t have the receptors for the heat, while our little furry friends do.

    • I’ve never tried mixing capsaisin with birdseed. My feeder does a good job thwarting the squirrels.

      The candied jalapenos sound interesting. Have you had the hot pepper jellies with cream cheese on crackers?

      I agree that getting the right level of spice and flavor is important. Hot for the sake of hot is not right for a meal. Maybe for a unique experience. It is fun to explore those foods.

  7. Love this post! As one who doesn’t favor hot sauce, part of me doesn’t understand those who do. I’ve always found it interesting that there is a scale … but it makes that it is – in similar fashion as a sweetness scale.

    • …and earthquakes. 🙂

      I didn’t used to eat hot foods. After trying them, I found them not so scary. I think the endorphins they release have a similar satisfying effect on the body and psyche as some other stimulants.

      I’m glad you like the post. My colleague is to be commended for putting it together.

  8. I like the comment about hot sauce for breakfast, and have also used the bird seed trick to keep out the squirrels.

    I make a carrot habanero sauce which is quite delicious with eggs or on grilled cheese sandwiches. Love the heat, just not too much. Interesting post, thank you.

  9. Great post!! I’m not a huge fan of spicy and hot… jalapenos are about as venturous as I get lol. Although I did try a bite of a thai chili pepper that absolutely lit my mouth on fire… NOT fun!

    • Thank you. I appreciate that.

      It has been an acquired taste over the years. I’m willing to try some pretty hot stuff. But, the mouth on fire you mentioned is lower on my list. Like many things, it is probably relative. What you call HOT, I might not. We need a taste test.

    • Thanks. That pretty much my level of like for the hot stuff. It needs to have a flavor purpose and not be just for pain’s sake. 😯

  10. Can you lose your tolerance for hot foods over time? I used to be able to eat hotter foods when I was younger, but now even a slice of jalapeno sends me to a gallon of milk. Well, a couple of glasses at least! I’m trying to build it back up! 😀

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