Indian food uses lot of spices but not all of them are hot. There are few that are the hottest Indian spices and responsible for the heat in your curry.
Join me as we dig in and share with you the hottest spices used in Indian cuisine and how to use them like an expert.
The hottest Indian spices are mustard, ginger, black pepper and chili ranked in order of spiciness with chili being the hottest. The mustard seeds are usually added to Indian food as tempering or tadka after popping them in hot oil. This gives a toasty flavor to them but the hotness is not released. In order to release the heat the mustard seeds need to be grinded.
The black peppercorns produces pungent heat that is not a flavor but a pain like sensation that is very similar to chili heat. Ginger is another hot spice with citrusy taste to it and the dried form is hotter than the fresh one. Last but not the least chilis are the hottest ones and the smaller they are the spicier they get.
Lets now look into all 4 of these and see how these spices release heat and how their heat levels can be controlled.
There are different types of mustards i.e. white, brown and black. White mustard seeds are light brown than white and have a mild taste and are used in pickling and to make American yellow mustard. The darker they get, the more pungent they are. The black one is the hottest and used the most in Indian cuisine.
When cooking ginger the heat breaks the hot flavor compounds to milder ones so the longer it cooks the gentler it gets. Also, we cannot use dried ginger same way as the fresh ones as the flavor profile changes completely when dried.
Did you know that there are more than 8 different types of pepper with colors like green, red, white and pink. We have listed them below in order of heat. Black peppercorns are the hottest and pink ones have the least amount of heat.
- Black peppercorns are picked green, just before a few berries start turning red. They are blanched in boiling water ,then dried to speed up drying. However, the black peppercorn is the hottest and most widely used.
- White Peppercorns are left on the plant for longer and they are just ripened peppercorns. Once picked, they are submerged in water to get rid of the skin. These are more pungent and have musty flavor resulting from the fermentation process.
- The green peppercorns are picked when they are still ripe and have a slightly floral, slightly metallic taste to them.
- Red peppercorns are allowed to ripen fully. They have fruitiness and a touch of sweetness to them but still spicy.
- Pink peppercorns are native to Peru. They are pretty but the flavor isn’t too pleasant. Lot of people perceive them as toxic but that’s not true.
Pepper provided the pungency to Indian food until it was replaced partially by chili.
Even though we mentioned chilies are the hottest, not all chilies are made the same. There are different types of chilies as well and their hotness is measured in a unit called SHUs i.e. Scoville Heat Units. Some of the chilies in order of hotness have been mentioned below.
|Scotch Bonnet and Habanero||100,000-350,000|
It is a popular belief that the seeds of a chili are the hottest part. Actually, the white membrane that attaches the seeds to the wall has all the heat stored in it.
The heat level of chili does not change much when its dried.
The Indian chili called But Jolakia or Ghost Pepper is the hottest one with SHU level more than 1,000,000. Needless to say I have never used one.
How to tame the hotness when using these 4 spices?
You can use the methods listed below to control the heat of these spices.
When cooking with mustard use whole mustard, don’t grind it.
Cook the ginger well and this will tone down the heat that’s there in raw ginger rhizome.
Black pepper is called King of spices and just like its name it can rule a dish if not used in moderation. You can choose to use less black pepper or use whole black peppercorns when cooking for that nice earthy flavor without the overpowering heat.
When cooking with chilies you can remove the seeds and the white membrane that attach seeds to chili. This will definitely reduce the hotness of the dish without compromising on the flavor.
How to make Indian food hotter?
Call me crazy but there have been times when I came across people asking tips for making the curry hotter because they felt it lacked the punch they were looking for,
This can happen if the spices are not of good quality or have been stored for a long time.
The best way to make the food hotter is by adding mustard, ginger, black pepper or chili depending on the flavor profile you are going for. You can add whole spices for slight heat and grinded powders if looking for more kick to the dish.
How to cool down your mouth after eating hot spicy curry?
Eating really hot food sets our mouth to fire and cuts off our ability to think and act. Hopefully it sounds familiar to you and it’s not just me sticking my tongue out jumping around unable to think. You get the picture.
If your mouth is set on fire by a hot curry, the best way to cool it down is to eat sugar. There is a common belief that milk helps but that takes time and isn’t as effective as sugar. Help yourself to a generous serving of sugar and let it sit on the tongue for some time for instant relief. You are welcome! 🙂