If you like hot (spicy) food and/or want to get more adventurous with chillies, here is your guide on how to add heat to your food.
Spicy vs hot
Many people use the word spicy to describe food that is hot due to the addition of chillies. This term might get confusing if you consider there are foods that are heavily spiced sometimes get labelled as “spicy” as well.
How to add heat to your food
Heat is normally added by the addition of chillies, although some spices such as black pepper and ginger can also introduce a bit of heat to meals. However, this article will focus on chillies in various presentations.
Fresh chillies are often used as a garnish (e.g. in ceviche, Thai and Vietnamese dishes) but can be used in a few more different ways. For example, many Peruvian dishes use chopped fresh chillies along with onions and garlic as the aromatic base. Medium to large chillies can be hollowed out and stuffed, a preparation that is common in Mexican cuisine.
As a general rule, small chillies tend to be hotter than larger ones. Don’t rely on size alone, though. This Wikipedia entry has a handy table.
Jarred/canned whole chillies
When fresh chillies are not an option, jarred or canned whole chillies can work in a pinch. These can also be pureed to be used in lieu of chilli pastes. Chipotles in adobo sauce are an essential ingredients for many Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes.
Depending on the variety, pickled chillies can be used as a garnish or condiment in many Mexican dishes (e.g. sliced jalapenos), Italian/Mediterranean salads and sandwiches (e.g. pepperoncini) and as a side dish in Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cuisines.
Some chillies can be roasted using the same technique used with capsicum (directly in an open flame) until the skin turns black, then peeled, stemmed and seeded for use in salads, pasta dishes, pizzas, etc.
Chilli pastes are another common ingredients in many Peruvian ingredients, and can be used as a base for stews, soups, curries and sauces. I like to use aji panca paste as a substitute for tomato paste.
Chilli powder is great for rubs, seasoning mixes (e.g. taco or Tex Mex chilli seasoning) and as a substitute when fresh chillies or chilli pastes are not available.
Chilli flakes are a great finishing touch for pasta, pizzas and even salads.
Hot sauce is a great option for people who need to cook mild for other members of the household and like to add heat to their own portion. Hot sauce can be added to any meal, including eggs and sauces.
When choosing hot sauces, always check ingredients to make sure they meet your requirements. For example, many sauces have added sugars, onion and/or garlic.
Sugar-free sauces are a great way to add a ton of flavour without many calories.
Chilli oil is a good alternative for dressing salads and also for cooking. Because chilli oil is mostly oil, it is important to choose a good quality one, such as extra virgin olive oil. Take into account chilli oil is more energy dense than other version of chilli products and might contain ingredients you want or need to avoid (e.g. garlic, sugar).
There are several good brands in the market, such as Bondi Heat.
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