09.03.2016 | Words by: Rebecca Donnison
While travelling we see, smell and eat new foods we find all over the world, influencing our eating cultures. It inspires chefs to mix and match all sorts of different ingredients and spices. After Ottolenghi introduced us to the Middle-Eastern gems and whilst the Mexican cuisine gained even more popularity lately; sumac and chipotle became new favourite kids on the block. Take chili - a spice that has been around since the Columbian exchange - which has become a universal darling, nearly every culture has incorporated it into their cuisine and even developed a resilience to it’s hotness.
A frequently asked question is why have we started liking something so much that causes us pain? In the warm parts of our world it is believed that eating hot and spicy helps cooling down faster or activates the digestive systems which tend to slow down due to heat. However, we don’t all have that same excuse. Spicy, unlike like sweet, salt, bitter or sour is not an actual flavour you’re able to taste with the tongue. The burning sensation - that basically numbs all taste buds - is caused by the molecule capsaicin (also: star ingredient in pepper spray). By activating the pain-receptors in the tongue capsaicin tricks the brain by registering discomfort from heat. Not to get completely geeky on you: the level of spiciness can even be mathematically defined by Scoville Heat Units.
There is plenty of research done in the chili-department, but what it narrows down to is that humans have masochistic-like needs. Fact: we’re the only living species on this planet that take pleasure in torturing ourselves or don’t mind to self-harm - at least when we know it is only short lasting (think: hangover). Since there are some who not only like it hot; but like the hotter the better, there are scientists who suggest being a chili-lover is influenced by your personality. Meaning it will be more likely you are risk-averse or an adrenaline junky, considering there are no addictive qualities found in capsaicin itself. On the plus side, a regular consumption of spicy foods might bring along health benefits.
But if you (like me) just love eating spicy as much as trying new things, you can give it a good go since there are over 200 varieties of chilies and an equal amount of hot-sauces in various Scoville levels. Maybe start slow with good old Sriracha or go hardcore with “Ass in the E.R. Scorpion Pepper Sauce”. There are even plenty of spicy cookbooks to buy! In the end, the great thing about food are the ongoing experiments with flavours making new creations. Don’t feel like experimenting yourself? You can always see what the guys in the kitchen at DS are stirring up - chipotle or sumac might just be featuring on tonight’s menu.