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How to explain your hot sauce addiction: A spice junkie's guide

Maybe there's always a bottle of hot sauce in your bag. Maybe you dry your own chili peppers at home. Maybe you're currently wearing some Sriracha socks. Whatever the manifestation of your spicy-food addiction, you're going to confuse/alarm some people (especially if you have the Sriracha socks), and it's important to know what to say in those situations. Here -- finally -- are some answers.

Joe Starkey
Aren’t your taste buds dead?
You might think they are, based on how some of us can handle some supremely spicy stuff. It isn’t taste buds dying, being burned off, or any of that. That stuff doesn’t happen until you’re old. The desensitization usually only lasts for an hour (or 24, in extreme cases) before wearing off. It’s just the fact that we’re tough… or possibly insane.

Why do you have to have spice in your meal?
We don’t have to have it, but it certainly makes everything more interesting -- it’s an exhilarating experience, not unlike a roller coaster, but without the 40min line. The slight nausea still sometimes remains.

Why are some foods spicy?
It’s due to the presence of capsaicin, a chemical that kinda makes your body think that it’s… burning. But that’s not a bad thing! It just releases endorphins and makes your tongue a little numb, in addition to confirming that you can still feel something -- ANYTHING -- in this topsy-turvy world.
Kevin Alexander
Spice can’t be good on everything... right?
Oh, but it can! And there are different types and varieties of heat that go well with pretty much any food you can think of. Sriracha on ice cream? You bet! Habanero ketchup on French fries? Why not?! Chugging a bottle of ghost pepper extract? Actually, wait. Don’t do that last one.

Do you always carry that hot sauce with you?
Yes. You always carry your wallet, right? This stuff is as useful as your Platinum Fuddruckers Fan Club Membership Card and probably comes in handy a lot more often.

I can’t stand spicy things.
More for the rest of us! Also, this isn’t a question.
Dan Gentile
Isn’t it more of an endurance test than an enjoyable experience?
Trick question -- it’s both! There’s certainly a rush from having something with a lot of heat, and while it can be a bit painful, it’s well worth it in the end for the feeling of having eaten something most people would balk at. Kinda like the Big Fat Fatty sandwich challenge.

Is a poblano spicy?
No.

Is a jalapeño spicy?
You’re getting there.

Is a habanero spicy?
Yeah -- TO MOST PEOPLE. They’re typically rated between 100,000 and 350,000 on the Scoville scale, which is about five times less spicy than the hottest currently known pepper, the Carolina Reaper (they don’t sugarcoat the names of these things).
Flickr/Lee Leblanc
What’s the deal with all this Scoville nonsense, anyway?
It’s not nonsense! The Scoville scale of pungency is an important rating system for the “heat” of spicy peppers based on their concentration of capsaicin, the chemical that creates a burning sensation and releases endorphins from the pituitary gland into the… hey, where are you going?!

What is “spicy”, really?
C’mon, don’t get all philosophical on me now.
Adam Lapetina
How can I start making my food spicier?
Well, for one, you can read this article about what types of hot sauce to pair with different foods, or you can just go to your local grocer and try a few. See if there’s one that stands out from the pack, and try it on anything and everything... you’ll be a hot sauce junkie in no time. Also, if you’re looking at a menu, sometimes you’ll see spicy items with cartoon peppers next to their names. Generally, this means they’ve got more kick than the other dishes, and will probably make your grandmother nervous for you. She really is a sweet lady.

And, as always, consult your doctor. Just kidding. Go to town, chiliheads.

Adam Lapetina is a food/drink staff writer at Thrillist, and carries a bottle of Blair's with him wherever he goes. Read his musings on Twitter at @adamlapetina.

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