Many of us like our foods to have a little (or a lot of) kick, but that taste is often interpreted in varying ways. What does spicy mean to you? Does it mean flavor? Or just a higher level on the heat index?
While we may love to feel that burn, it’s not just about that. Spice has an incredible place of honor on the palate, and this is true around the world. Whether you are trying to find warmth from within on a cold, dreary night or the pleasure of that heat sensation (it’s a bit sexy, no?) you’ll find varieties of it in many of the world’s cuisines, and have for centuries.
When it comes to heat and spice, it’s not just about burning your kishkas off (as my mom would say!), but about flavor. We’ve rounded up some great sources of heat that also have a lot of taste going on. Give them a try and you’ll see the difference. And then probably need a large glass of water.
Curry has a reputation for just being a part of Southeast Asian or Indian fare, but it can be wonderful in so many ways. This powder is loaded with heat but also intense flavors like coriander, turmeric, fenugreek, and cumin. It can be added to Indian cuisine but is also great in tuna salad or pasta, on eggs, and even on popcorn.
A unique honey vinegar that is sparked with the slight sting of Serrano chilies, this vinegar is delicate and sweet-tart, with zesty heat. Used in place of traditional balsamic vinegar, it adds delicious and distinct flavor and spark to salad dresses, but also sauces or as a marinade.
These oft-canned peppers are a Mexican staple that still doesn’t get the attention it deserves. “Chipotles are smoked jalapeños and delicious on their own, but add them to the vinegary goodness of adobo sauce and you got a great ingredient that packs a punch without overwhelming you with heat,” says Dave Vendley of Calexico Restaurants. A great base for marinades and salsas, Vendley recommends the La Morena brand. “Look for the orange can in the ethnic food aisle of your grocery store!”
Owner and chief fermentor Chef Michaela Hayes hand-makes all her sauerkrauts using a traditional cabbage and carrot base, but she adds a blend of spices to create fiery sauerkraut—it’s crunchy, savory and provides a spicy kick. Also, as it’s a fermented food, it’s naturally chock-full with healthful probiotics. Now what hot sauce can say that?
There’s been a big move toward more spicy and savory cocktails the last few years, and this vodka provides a surprisingly bold blast of spicy flavors. Infused with a proprietary blend of chilies, garlic and vegetables, these flavors honor the traditional sriracha hot sauce, named after Si Racha, Thailand, the city where it was first created.
Flickr/Hans Peter Meyer
The Caesar is the national cocktail of Canada—it’s basically a spicy Bloody Mary with fresh clam juice. There’s even a National Caesar Day in Canada! One hotel, Chelsea Toronto, has a bar with a full Caesar menu that became so incredibly popular, they started bottling the mix for their classic version because so many guests asked for the recipe.
Mark Bradley created his Hot Tar brand after his hobby of growing and cultivating hot peppers—particularly habaneros—fused with his love of cooking delicious food for family and friends. Starting with Hot Tar’s signature product, habanero-infused tartar sauce, Hot Tar’s product offerings have now grown to include habanero-infused honey, vinegar, cocktail sauce and hush puppy mix. The standout is the Hot Tail Cocktail Sauce, though. Made with fresh horseradish root and habanero peppers, it adds a fresh heat to your next cocktail shrimp experience.
Aly Walansky is a lifestyles writer based in New York City. Her greatest loves include her shih tsu, soap operas, and extra dirty martinis. Follow her on Twitter: @AlyWalansky.