Don’t worry — that burning sensation in your mouth is not the beginning of spontaneous human combustion. That sweat forming on the top of your scalp is an entirely normal reaction. Oh, and your running nose? Don’t panic. These occurrences are not uncommon if you are eating spicy foods, and while the burning, sweating, and dribbling nose are not generally something the majority of people find as an attractive incident, to many it is an exciting experience.
I have long been a proponent of spicy foods; just the slightest tingle on my tongue opens up my sinuses and amplifies the flavors of whatever I’m tasting. However, many people do not dare eat something even with the slightest bit of pepper, claiming it to be too spicy, but they’re missing out on experiencing different kinds of foods and flavors. So, in order to encourage a new exploration of culinary tastiness, I would like to offer a few tips that would open up the world of spice to anyone who is willing and able to try.
Your first time eating something spicier than what you are used to should be done on your own terms. Perhaps next time you enter a dining hall for breakfast and you see those roasted potatoes, add an extra shake of black pepper or a dash of hot sauce, and when that tingle on your tongue begins, don’t fight it. Add as much or as little as you want, but remember, building up a tolerance requires you to push yourself (and your tastebuds), so don’t get comfortable.
When you feel like your tastebuds have gotten strong enough to withstand a good deal of heat, the next time you venture into Collegetown for a meal take a look and see if there is that little mini chili pepper floating next to the dish name. Instead of recoiling in fear, be brave and order it. But be careful, one little “mild” chili pepper in one restaurant may be the equivalent to three in another. Be sure to ask your waiter how spicy it actually is. You can ask him to compare it to things you already know like bell peppers, curries or salsa to prevent ordering something that is too spicy for you.
In your journey to discovering the joy of spice, there may be times where you order something that you aren’t quite ready for, and that first bite fills you with instant regret. Those are the times in which I recommend that you keep something next to you in order to ease the pain. Dairy products such as cheese, milk and ice cream do a great job in extinguishing the fire to some degree. It will not be instantaneous, but it will ease the somewhat painful experience. Something that I do not recommend, however, is washing the spice down with any kind of fruit juice — the acidity seems to amplify the burning, making the experience all the more painful.
It may be difficult at first, especially with each new addition of spice, but just remember that building up a tolerance takes time. Every additional spice is another step closer to finally being able to eat that package of spicy instant ramen your parents sent or pitching in to finishing that bucket of hot wings you and your friends ordered together. At the end of it all, even if you still don’t appreciate that burning sensation, you can be the hit of the party and impress everyone when you proclaim that you can eat an entire habanero pepper without any fear.