Serious Heat: How Did You Become a Chilehead?

Serious Heat

Andrea Lynn, senior editor of Chile Pepper magazine, shares thoughts and observations from the fiery food world.

"My baby, who's five, eats pico de gallo that sometimes cleans my sinuses out." —Pioneer Woman


[Flickr: hozae]

I'm always interested to hear people's stories about their paths to spice obsession—or just to tolerance. I think there are generally two ways: spice by immersion and a slow-building tolerance.

Spice By Immersion

My mom was a chilehead before I had even heard of the term. She loved making a batch of chili, adding more habaneros and hot sauce to the pot because she claimed it wasn't spicy enough.

By the time it got to the dinner table—or worse, a few days later—the heat would ignite my childhood palate. It was a good way to get me to drink milk, because I would slurp through glasses of it.

"Is it really that spicy?" my mom would ask. "YES!" was my flame-filled response. It was semi-torture but I learned to take it. By my teenage years, I was piling my pizza high with jalapenos and liberally dousing Sriracha on food. My mom had turned me into a spice addict.

Slow-Building Tolerance

In the November issue of Chile Pepper magazine, we profile Ree Drummond, aka Pioneer Woman, who loves to add a sneak of heat into meals for her family. The trick, she says, is building up spice slowly, allowing everyone, even her youngest child, to handle it.

"I think the best way to incorporate those flavors is starting with tiny little doses and working them into familiar things—like the chicken spaghetti, or macaroni and cheese. So you put a little in, and then six months later try a little more. You can never start out full force because kids' taste buds aren't ready for it yet. Their tongues aren't used to it," she said.

And now, partly as a result, she says, "My kids are pretty tough. My baby, who's five, eats pico de gallo that sometimes cleans my sinuses out, but he'll sit there and polish off half the bowl, and it's because I've slowly incorporated jalapenos into my cooking over the years. My first child, when she was five, would've looked at a jalapeno and started crying."

But you don't have to be a child to ease yourself into the world of spice. When I first began working at Chile Pepper, my boyfriend at the time had a very low tolerance. The more I began zesting up my dishes with dashes of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes, the more his tolerance grew. After just about six months, he was about even with me. What was your path to chile addiction?

Note: Andrea Lynn is the senior editor of Chile Pepper magazine. On Wednesdays, she drops by with Serious Heat.