Hot Versus Spicy

Some say taste is subjective. Actually, though, it is chemical. The shapes of the chemical compounds in your food present various shapes to the taste receptors in your mouth, and the smell receptors in your nose, for that matter. The receptors interpret these shapes as flavors and scents.

The food descriptors hot and spicy are generally heard, and tasted, together. But they are not the same. You can have food that is pungent, fragrant and highly spiced but which does not make you feel like you just bit a glowing coal.

First, what makes hot foods “hot”? Again, the answer is chemistry. Each hot food contains key chemicals that stimulate the high temperature receptors in your mouth. Chilis (a.k.a. hot peppers) contain capsaicinoids while peppercorns (the stuff ground up in your pepper shaker) contain piperine.   In horseradish, mustard, and wasabi various isothiocyanates are to blame.  Although not usually grouped with the hot seasonings, many people feel heat when eating ginger. Gingerol and its derivatives do that.

If you avoid or limit the use of these compounds in your seasoning routine you can achieve the spicy while eschewing the hot. If you don’t believe me, try this:

Spilt an eggplant in half, quarter 2 onions, and peel some garlic. I’ll leave the garlic quantity to your taste. Spoiler alert- this will ultimately be a soup so feel free to play around with amounts of ingredients. Drizzle with just a bit of olive oil and roast it all for an hour-ish at 350˚F.

You can use another oil if you want. It's soup after all. Just use what you have.

You can use another oil if you want. It’s soup after all. Just use what you have.

Add two halved bell peppers (I had a yellow and an orange, but color is important). Roast another 30-45 minutes or until the eggplant is very soft and squishy.

Meanwhile, toast some spices- 1 TBL of coriander seeds, ½ TBL of cumin, ½ TBL of caraway, 1 tsp of mustard seeds (which is not enough to get the heat sensors going for most of us). Put a little skillet on medium heat, and add the spices.

Keep those seeds and flower buds moving! They will pop and skitter around a bit, so be prepared to jump back.

Keep those seeds and flower buds moving! They will pop and skitter around a bit, so be prepared to jump back.

Stir them until the smell fills the air and they brown just a bit. Then, reduce those spices to a powder. You can use any grinding device you want, but I like the old school mortar and pestle.

You can, quite literally, go medieval on those spices!

You can, quite literally, go medieval on those spices!

Now- the soup comes together. I always scoop the eggplant flesh out of the skin, but some people contend that you can eat eggplant skins. In any case, puree all the roasted veggies, with or without the eggplant’s tough, nasty, bitter peel. Pour the puree in a soup pot. Add 2, 15oz, cans of tomato puree and 3 cans of water. Finally, add the ground spices (yeah, ALL THOSE GROUND SPICES) and 2 drained, 15oz, cans of chick peas. Salt to taste and heat it up.

Tomatoes are a naturally good source of glutamate- the amino acid that gets human taste buds all worked up. That's why every sandwich ever tastes better with a slice of tomato and why ketchup can make anything edible.

Tomatoes are a naturally good source of glutamate- the amino acid that gets human taste buds all worked up. That’s why every sandwich ever tastes better with a slice of tomato and why ketchup can make anything edible.

Now, have a big spoonful. Are you a believer? No heat, lots of taste, and vegetable deliciousness in spades. If you’re missing the heat, go ahead and grind in some black pepper or add a drip or three of chili sauce. Mr. Food It Yourself likes the kind with the green top and the rooster label.

Some DIYeters are super sensitive to hot foods, others just prefer less burning flavors. Does that mean some of us have to eat only the blandest of meals? Absolutely not! Tease the hot from the spicy and you’ll have some flavorful and enjoyable meals. Give it a try!

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