Samuel Muston: If you can't stand the heat, opt for chillies that add flavour

The sauce flowed from the bottle in one blood-red wave, surging out across the plate of pasta like a spicy tsunami. In the time it took to squeeze the bottle of Sriracha, the lovingly prepared (by me) spaghetti alla puttanesca on my friend's plate was ruined. I know this is the pasta of easy virtue – its name translates as "whore's pasta", after all – but still, I wondered, was it necessary to soak it with so much chilli sauce?

My friend raised his hand in a Caesarish gesture, and deployed the line used by dubious American doctors on TV to justify pretty much any misdemeanour, "I have an addiction. It is an illness."

It was a good joke, and it also got me thinking. For some people, it seems, the bottle of chilli sauce has become the condiment of choice. Where once the bottle of ketchup was brought out with every meal (ketchup with curry, anyone?), now, all too often, it is the chilli sauce which stands sentry at breakfast lunch and dinner.

One friend of mine collects bottles of chilli sauce, going to ever greater (and more expensive) lengths to find stronger, more scorching versions he can sneak into pho noodle soup and watch his friends cough, sneeze and weep after just a single spoonful. Yet another person I know eats pickled chillies as if they were brined olives.

Is it masochism? Is it madness? Or is it, in fact, an addiction as my friend jokingly claimed? For answers, I turned to someone who has eaten more chillies than anyone I know, Malin Eriksson, a chilli expert and chef who is tasked by Santa Maria, the spice merchant, with tracking down the world's best tongue-tickling peppers. She explains that the capsaicin in the little red devils stimulate TRPV1 heat receptors on our tongue, giving, in some cases, that burning feeling.

But, she doesn't think you can be really addicted to them. "If you had tried a scorpion chilli as I have, which is 1,460,000 on the scoville scale [an anchou chilli, the kind most commonly used in Mexican cooking, is 1,000], you wouldn't want to do it again."

Those who unthinkingly souse food in the hottest sauces are missing a trick, she says. "Chillies are about so much more than heat," she says. And certainly, it does seem strange that in a world in which you can buy a thousand different salts and peppercorns, we categorise chillies as simply "hot" or "not too hot".

There are more than a thousand varieties of chilli, with new ones being cross-bred all the time. Each one is affected, like wine grapes, by terroir (hot areas tend to grow chillies with concentrated flavours, for example). Indeed, to hear Malin talking about them, is to be immediately reminded of a sommelier. Mexican anchos are "plummy and coffee-rich in flavour"; while chipotle moritas are "smoky with hints of chocolate".

Yes, it sounded pseudy to me, too, until I tried the ones she sent me. It was similar to when you first start noticing the flavours in wine – revelatory.

So put down the Sriracha, step away from the Tabasco, try some other chillies, be they in a bottle or fresh, and give your tastebuds the break they deserve.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine