Posted June 30, 2005 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News

Does anyone really like food this hot?

From SJ-R.com

It’s hard to be a marshmallow in a world obsessed with fire.

I’m talking food here, the blistering, blast-furnace variety that has heated up American cuisine in the past few years. You know, the kind that diners profess to love as sweat streams down their cheeks and flames shoot out their pie holes.

Mo hotta, mo betta? For me, it’s mo hotta, no getta.

Eating in a restaurant is a minefield for me. I have learned to ask servers about the spiciness of menu items, but the answers are subjective. Usually, they tell me the dish has “a little heat.” And it often does, compared to the surface of the sun.

In part, I blame TV chef Emeril Lagasse for this unfortunate trend. He uses bold ingredients like a lion tamer uses a whip, inducing his studio audience into a frenzy as he steps up the flavors. In goes the onions. BAM! In goes the garlic. BAM! In goes the screamin’ hot chile peppers guaranteed to cause death before the second bite. BAM! BAM! BAM!

The spicier the dish, the more the Emerilistas scream and wave their capsaicin-scarred hands, as if that’s a good thing.

The influence of Latin cuisine is another culprit. Although I enjoy the relatively mild flavors of cumin, cilantro, oregano and mint, those tastes are overpowered when serranos are tossed into the mix. To me, fire overpowers the complexities of flavor.

The ability to consume Scoville units has taken on certain bragging rights. I’ve seen otherwise normal adults, usually men, trying to one-up each other by eating habanero-hot chili and chicken wings while acting as if an inferno wasn’t scalding their mouths. What’s next? Walking on molten lava?

Bravado also rears its highfalutin head when it comes to hot sauces. The names are amusing – Da’ Bomb, Mad Dog’s Revenge and Smack My Ass and Call Me Sally – but the contents should only be consumed by firefighters in full gear and paramedics with quick access to resuscitation equipment.

Let’s be honest: I suspect that most Americans don’t even like super-spicy fare. But they ride the wave because it’s cooler to be part of a trend than to be the only one at the table not digging into the Tex-Mex sampler platter.

The emperor’s clothes are stained with pepper sauce.

Food editor Kathryn Rem can be reached at 788-1520 or kathryn.rem@sj-r.com.

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog