A friend of mine is finishing her PhD at Johns Hopkins in some insanely smart field, like quantum physics mechanical aerospace engineering genetic corn modification. On my last trip to Baltimore, her sister was also in town and we tossed around dinner ideas. Someone suggested Mexican, and I immediately imagined a scene out of Man v. Food.
(un)Fortunately, I had a burrito of normal proportions. I typically prefer my food with a little bit of heat because I believe that spice can bring out a different depth of flavor in a dish. When I first placed my order, I asked the waiter if it would be possible to add jalapenos to my burrito. He assured me it would not be a problem. However, upon bringing out our meal, he arrived with a small bowl of whole jalapenos and offered to slice them for me, table-side.
A few bites of burrito later, I realized these jalapenos were duds and asked the waiter for hot sauce. Our waiter, a gentlemen who only became odder as the night wore on, brought out a bottle and paused to say, “I put a little drop on my tongue, and it burned the whole way down. You know it’s not good to eat too much spicy food. You might burn off your tongue.”
My friend and her sister convinced me that his words were a challenge offered. In turn, I emptied the whole bottle of habenero hot sauce on my plate. Challenge accepted. By the end of the evening, I had allegedly emptied the kitchen of jalapenos, spicy salsa, and hot sauce. Our waiter had also flatteringly associated my tolerance for heat with an episode of something he saw on the SyFy channel.
That event, compiled with my love for hot sauces and gleeful discovery of the world’s new hottest pepper, got me thinking. Why do I love spicy food so much? And why can some people down ghost chili peppers without a tear and other people can’t even let a red pepper flake touch their lips?
There are many theories proposed to explain this love of all things spicy. Some people think it’s a form of masochism. Others think it has something to do with a developed taste bias. And yet others say it is cultural and regional because “spices are Nature’s meds.”
Which reason do you think is the most compelling, and why do you like (or don’t like) spicy food?
Ghost Chile Hot Sauce! If you’re interested, check out the Savory Spice Shop in Princeton, NJ. Even if you don’t like heat, the store has a great selection of herbs and spices and blended rubs and seasonings.