I get hot under the collar about spices

Spices get a raw deal. (Imagine me parading up and down my kitchen waving a little placard that reads ‘Spices are our friends, not our enemy!’)

The reason I am parading up and down my kitchen waving this little placard? One word;


Well, not the word, but the context in which it is most often used these days. I’ll give you some examples:

“I don’t like spicy food.”
“I don’t like my food to be too spicy.”
“I didn’t make it too spicy because of (insert name here).”

You get the gist?

Almost every day, in almost all of the (many) cookery programmes I watch, someone utters a similar sentence, and that includes chefs. Even in conversations had or overheard a voice can often be heard stating one of these old chestnuts.

Well folks. Most of you are probably saying entirely the wrong thing…

What you ‘don’t like…’, ‘don’t like to be too…’, or ‘didn’t make too…’ is HOT!!!

I understand if you don’t like lip burning, throat searing, tongue numbing heat. Not everyone does, but I’m happy to say I am not one of you. If you don’t like the heat, fine; but you could still like spicy food.

Most of these much maligned spices are not hot at all, they have many different characteristics which is why, when spices are used; they are usually part of an ensemble, each one benefiting the other and the collective creating a wonderful end result.

You could make a chilli con carne without it being too hot; just go easy on the cayenne, chilli powder, and fresh chillies/dried chillies. The authenticity comes from cumin, (sweet/smoked) paprika, cinnamon*, oregano, and fresh coriander, so I have made chillis in the past with little or no heat depending on the eater. Okay, it does sort of defeat the object but in my opinion the heat is the last thing that should be concentrated on. The flavour is paramount. Many ‘British’ chilli con carnes are effectively savoury mince with a shed load of chilli powder stirred in and a dollop of sour cream on top. No wonder people say they don’t like the dish. A good chilli is nuanced and layered, mainly because of the different spices that give flavour and fragrance without heat.

So in a nutshell, if you don’t like food that tastes HOT avoid the following in excess:

Chilli flakes
Dried Chillies**
Fresh chillies***
Chilli powder
Cayenne pepper
Hot Paprika

Pretty much every other spice in your cupboard is not hot to taste. Some are a little bitter (turmeric), some are very fragrant (cumin), and some I don’t know how to describe exactly (sweet paprika) but they ain’t hot!

*I add cocoa powder and a scraping of lime zest too but that’s just me!

**Some can be relatively mild, like chipotle.

***Milder fresh chillies exist such as jalapeno and poblano, but you need to check. Others will be very mild with seeds and pith removed.

I get hot under the collar about spices

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