If you like spicy dishes, does that mean you can't appreciate more subtle dishes?

Joined Jun 16, 2007
If someone likes spicy food, does it mean they can't taste non-spicy food? And does it mean that they are used to inferior ingredients and cover these ingredients up with spices?

I say no, but I'd like to know what others think.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
Love spicy, love subtle. I feel I taste both well. Spicy can mean two different things, of course. One is hot, and the other is "a lot of spice," which in turn is sometimes synoymous with complex.

It's axiomatic that either can be overdone; but in my case you'd have to go pretty far on the hot or lot. Yeti's too, I expect. But too complex? It offends my inner good cook as it not only masks the the taste of the underlying principle ingredients but muddles it as well. Unforgivable.

Subtle seasoning is nice. But it is certainly not only possible to under-season food as well. Not only possible, but frequently done at home. On the other hand, restaurants often oversalt.

I like bright, vibrant flavors as much as I like sensitivity and restraint; and vice versa. Turner Turner, Norham Castle, Sunrise, and Jackson Pollock http://www.annrea.com/blog/wp-conten...n-pollock2.jpg. And why not?


PS. Don't eat the paintings, darlings
Joined Nov 1, 2009
I think you can appreciate both. I love nothing better than an honest to goodness 5 alarm Szechuan. But I also love the subtle flavors of say, a good Coq Au Vin.


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Some of it will depend on if you're a super taster or not on your ability to percieve flavors.
Joined May 26, 2001
The second sentence was true hundreds of years ago, when spices were used to cover up the off-flavors of food well on its way to rotting. If you look at recipes from medieval and Renaissance times, you'll see lots of spices where you might not expect them. I'm looking in Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony by Madeleine Pelner Cosman at a recipe for "Saumon Rosted" (Roast Salmon in Onion Wine Sauce) that calls for 6 salmon steaks, 1 1/2 cups red wine, 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (!), 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 4 minced small onions, and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Nowadays, that's a lot of flavorings for that amount of fish.

Still on that second point: when I work on books of "copycat" recipes -- recipes meant to replicate favorite chain-restaurant dishes -- I notice that the recipes call for what seems to me to be an inordinate amount of sweeteners and salt. Not necessarily a lot of herbs and spices, and not always a lot of hot stuff, not even when it's supposed to be a "hot spicy" dish. Since I suspect the restaurants being copied don't use the finest ingredients, then I'd argue that sugar and salt are used more than spices to mask lack of quality.

But to your first point: throwing it back to you, what do you mean by "spicy food"? Hot, like from chiles or lots of black pepper? Or made with a lot of spices like cinnamon or cumin or nutmeg, and what about herbs? If it's hot spicy from chiles, it might not be a person's choice -- they could be addicted to the endorphin high that they get from eating the chiles. Just like chocolate, chiles make the body release natural "feel-good" chemicals. Sounds odd, given the pain they can also cause, but true. :lol:
Joined Nov 1, 2009
Yeah, at 1,041,427 Scoville Units, that's going to leave a mark. I wonder if he enjoyed it as much when it made its exit. :D
Joined Aug 25, 2009
My eyes teared watching him.....

I believe it boils down to how the dish is suppose to be made. Nothing wrong with hot if it is meant to be hot, and tasty (and edible).

Subtle flavors are wonderful as well.

To change a dish when it is meant to be eaten as "is" ....well then you are no longer enjoying the joy of how is meant to be eaten.

But then again....not everyone has the same palate.

mes deux mots...
Joined Feb 1, 2007
The second sentence was true hundreds of years ago, when spices were used to cover up the off-flavors of food well on its way to rotting. If you look at recipes from medieval and Renaissance times, you'll see lots of spices where you might not expect them

This is the second or third time I've seen a comment like this in as many days. But the fact is, it is much overstated.

First off, until, roughly, the second half of the 19th century (and in some places even later than that), the preferred food---particularly meat---a little on the high side. Actually, a lot on the high side, by our standards. They liked their meats gamey, and often hung them until that happened.

So, a lot of the food we would consider spoiled, got there by intent in those days, not just because of a lack of refrigeration.

More than covering up the taste of spoiled food, spices , were a sign of affluence. Spices were incredibly expensive. So much so that the lady of the manor kept them under lock and key, and doled them out to the cooks. To use a lot of them, particularly when entertaining, was a sign of how high in esteem you held your guests.

They also tended to use aromatics more freely. We tend to think of things like nutmeg, and cloves, and cinnamon as associated with sweets and baked goods. But in the 16-18 centuries they were just as likley to be used, heavy handedly, with savory dishes.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
No big deal, Suzanne. It's a common mistake, often repeated in cookbooks about period food.

The one problem we have with many popular food history cookbooks is that the author's tend to project backwards. That is, they take current standards and apply them to researched recipes.

If nothing else, the one thing I learned as a living historian is that if you want to understand the why of things you must first understand the worldview of the culture. If not, it's just too easy to make common presumptions, such as the "spices to hide spoiled food" one.

Another classic case is Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery. This is often presented as the cookery manuscript that Martha worked from. Many "authorities" on 18th century cooking have said so. But that's because they've looked at, and maybe updated the recipes, without having the broad view of food history. By the late 1700s, it's recipes were already well out of date. In actuality, Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery was a Custis-Lee family heirloom, dating back to about 1645.

I'm gonna shut up now, cuz I'm not really looking to hi-jack Yeti's thread.
Joined Aug 18, 2007
Yeti, Can i assume that you mean chilli's, curries's etc?

IMO people who really enjoy them, do so over a period of time. Their senses become accustomed to the heat and tastes, and over time, become de-sensitised and need moreand more of the same to get the same "kick" out of a spicy meal.I speak frommy own experience and that of my friends.

My Indian friend Suman tells me they start their litttle ones on stronger and stronger dishes as they get older to accustom them gradually.
I'm also aware that in this culture, the spices are not only for preservation of meat and produce, but to keep the body healthy. They all have a purpose. Either for digestion, joint pain or sinus problems. fever. etc. etc. I happen to think it's a coincidence, or maybe just happenchance, that some of us also adore the Chef's delights that entice us again and again

As for dulling our palate, I love a full on Madras, but I can also melt into a whole baked seabass with nothing on it but s&p
Joined Jan 5, 2007
Whilst I love 'Indian' food (mostly Bangladeshi in the UK) I also adore fine French foods.

Different tastes, but appreciate both.
Joined Jun 16, 2007
I didn't specify what types of spices, because I'm interested in what people have to say about different kinds. I appreciate all the responses.

Maybe people who have always had meat as a highly spiced curry (for example), since they were born, would need to get accustomed to having it any other way. Maybe that goes vice-versa too. I remember eating raw fish for the first time. It was an "acquired" taste for me, but it didn't take long for me to acquire it.

"I love a full on Madras, but I can also melt into a whole baked seabass with nothing on it but s&p "
I'm totally with you. Maybe it's just because we're used to both.

That guy eating the whole naga jolokia is crazy! :lol:
Joined Aug 18, 2007
Never tried it guv'nr 'cos I value taste over heat. As for a tindaloo read vindaloo I've heard that was simply retribution against the beer swilled brits that took the pi** out of the poor Indian waiters. They gave them such a hard time, that the chefs invented a dish to make them suffer the day after ~~ Ghandi's revenge

I actually watched the whole video. ...Felt like a sadist... What was I waiting for?... His head to explode!! Wouldn't like to be around him the next day
Joined Nov 6, 2004
I think it would be silly to think that a person who enjoys spicy foods cannot properly enjoy something that may be more subtle. I also think it's just as silly to think that a person who likes spicy foods is covering the food with spices in order to compensate for less than quality ingredients.

Well, the second one is not necessarily true, but I'm sure it can be true sometimes. I believe it's all about balance. Spicy is perfectly fine if it's within balance. Same with sweetness, acidic, subtle flavors anything...they always need to be in balance.

Joined Feb 1, 2007
This is a rather complex question. On one hand, many people, especially Americans, use "spicy" and "hot" as synonyms. And, of course, that isn't the case. There are many bold, in-your-face, flavors that are not hot.

I believe if we leave heat out of the equation, for arguments sake, then people who enjoy spicy foods have little trouble with less bold flavors.

Within the context of hot, however, there are different orientations. Some people like hot, in various levels, as one of the flavor components of a total dish. Others like heat for it's own sake.

I would say that it's the latter group who have trouble with more subtle flavors. Case in point: When I worked for an Indian-owned motel, the owner's brother was in to heat. No matter what chilies you used, nor in how great a quantity, it was never hot enough for him. The owner liked spicy food, to be sure (he was Indian, after all). But even he couldn't understand his brother's choice in food. Meanwhile, unless it was blow-the-roof-of-your-mouth off, the brother couldn't taste the food.

One year I grew a chili rated at 700,000 SHUs (for those who don't know, that's about twice the heat of a typical habanero). He thought a dish made with them was bland

I've had similar experiences with other folks. For chiliheads it's all about the heat and endorphen rush. And for many of them, it's like the old joke: their tastebuds were shot off in the war.
Joined Jun 16, 2007
Some dishes I like with a lot more chile heat than the average Oregonian. There's a limit, though--I don't enjoy pain. My taste buds are used to a lot of capsaicin, but too much isn't pleasant.

Other types of heat, like black pepper and hot mustard, are as hot to me as to anyone else.
Joined Apr 16, 2006
My take is personal intuition, not food science, but -

My sense is that when people who aren't acclimated to heat (& I primarily mean chili heat here) eat something with too much capsaicin for them, that's all she wrote. That's all they can taste - actually feel more than taste. They then project that on to people who are acclimated to chili heat & assume that that's all they can taste, too.

Being a bit of a fire-eater, I feel like I get the chili heat AND whatever else is going on in the dish.

This is a pretty dubious argument, though, since I think you can definitely go overboard on the chili & then it will take over completely. But then what's to prevent the true chilihead from using the same argument? "Yeah, I taste these lakhs & lakhs of Scoville Units AND everything else in the dish..."
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