Chiles and capsaicin

Sunday 21 May (2006)

Nando's chicken comes in four levels of temperature: lemon and herb (nil spice), medium, hot, extra hot. Now, I've grown up with a sadistic father who enjoyed giving me currys that could blow your colon apart, so I'm used to spicy food. I'm used to the pathetic warning signs on Sizzle N' Stir curry sauces that go something like this:

Mild = Nothing spicy even came near this sauce

Hot = A Mild Spice

Dynamite = A few chillis, pretty hot

I've eaten whole jars of jalapeño peppers before now. I can handle spice.

I wasn't in the mood for anything too hot, so I thought I'll hedge my bets and go for the third highest; 'hot'. A mistake. This was very hot, a lot more than I expected. So my convoluted point is this:

Why isn't there some kind of standard rating for 'hot' food? You buy a bottle of rum and you know how much alcohol is in it because it says on the side: 40%. You buy a loaf of bread and you know how many calories there are in it because it says so on the side. When you buy something spicy you get a vague: 'mild' or 'hot' that doesn't mean anything because it's subjective. I want there to be an international standard for hot food. Hell, make it simple – just give it a rating out of ten, one being 'if this burns your mouth you must be living on ice cream' and ten being 'better get ready to go to hospital'.

They know how to measure it, so why don't they tell us?


Using the Scoville scale I have made an estimate of how 'hot' the chicken at Nando's was. They serve Peri-Peri chicken at this chain of Portuguese-style restaurants, which is the Portuguese name for the African birdseye chile. Measuring against the Jalapeño, which I am the first to admit is not a particularly hot chile (if just for the fact that I can eat them comfortably) but is nevertheless still too hot for everyone else I know here in Cheltenham, I find this:

Jalapeño = 2500 – 8000 Scovilles(?)

African Birdseye aka Peri-Peri = 100,000 – 225,000

As you can see, this means that the 'hot' sauce at Nando's is conservatively (adjusting for the fact that it wasn't their hottest sauce) 10-50 times stronger than a jalapeño pepper. This kind of proves my point – whenever we all get nachos, people give me a pile of jalapeños to eat because they're too hot for them to eat. They're too hot! I can handle them because in the scheme of things they're mild, and I kind of grew up on spicy food. It makes sense that I should be able to handle a mere 'hot' sauce at a restaurant that also offers 'extra hot'.

This whole field is too subjective. I mean hell, I enjoy spicy food, I just wish I knew what I was in for before I bite down into it. Anyway, sod it, next time we go to Nando's I'm going for the extra hot – why not?


5 Responses to “Chiles and capsaicin”

  1. sallymae Says:

    Ever thought that the reason they can’t make a standardised rating is because taste i.e. how spicy you find something is subjective? It all depends on the spice experience of your tongue/mouth. You’ve grown up eating crazy spicy curries so to you a jar of jalapeno peppers is nothing. I’ve grown up never touching food that might be ‘too spicy’ since my Dad fed me a bit of horseradish sauce when I was a kid (it burnt my mouth!), so to me a jalapeno pepper is like a mouthful of nettles. I guess they just rate it depending on how spicy they find it, it can’t be the same the world over.

  2. stan Says:

    Yes, how spicy you find something is subjective. However, if there was a standard rating based on how much capsaicin there is in the product (following my vague 1-10 scale) then people would still be able to differentiate between what’s hot (for them) and what’s not.

    For example, you might buy a curry sauce rated 5/10, and find it to be too hot for your palate. From this you would know that anything rated 5 or higher is definately too hot for you. I however might be able to take it up to level 7. So if we were eating a meal together, we’d get something rated 4 or less, but if I were eating alone I might get something rated 6.

    It works, trust me!

  3. sallymae Says:

    Whatever, curry-jalapeno-spice-head-man, you’ve put way too much thought into this when you should be doing something a bit more productive 😉

  4. Dave Says:

    To be fair, ive been to nandos twice and thank god got the bottomless drink with my meal. My personal conclusions from trying all the sauces on offer (lemon + herb – hottest) is that from medium up you wont be able to tast anyting else of your meal so whatever sauce is on it is immeterial. On my 2nd visit i was convinced the medium was much hotter than “hot” i had at the same meal. To be honest they all taste the same and they are plenty bloody hot enough for me.
    On a side not, this lunch time i had a chicken baguette i made myself and put some of the nandos sauce on it you can get from tesco in the small boettle. This i would suggest is on par to the medium in the restaurant and it hot!
    Also i remeber when we got nachos in spoons ages ago and me n rob at the chillis cause we were pissed! i necked that pint after!

  5. stan Says:

    The bottomless drink would be a good idea; I got a bottle of Portuguese lager for £2.90 and bought another soon after I started eating. That same lager was £4 for 6 bottles in Tesco >:

    I nearly bought some Nando’s Peri-Peri ketchup today (similar to the sauce you mentioned) but I only had enough money for some Black Sheep Ale.

    And Spoons’ nachos are the stuff of legend here!

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