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I've lived in several midwest states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan), and while the midwest isn't known for spicy food, in these states I've always ordered the hot salsa for my burrito bowl when I go to Chipotle.

I'm in California now and just grabbed my first Chipotle here, getting the hot salsa as usual. However, the hot salsa feels significantly hotter than the hot salsa from the midwest - I've already downed my 16 oz water and I'm only half-way through my burrito bowl. Normally I can eat my whole burrito bowl without water (and yes, I know eating any food without water is unusual).

I know California has a higher proportion of Mexican restaurants than the midwest, and therefore it has spicier food on average. So I'm wondering if anyone knows -

Does Chipotle make the hot salsa hotter in states that have spicier food, like California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas?

That seems like it would make sense since the people in these states would have a higher threshold for spicy foods and might want some extra kick compared to midwestern people.

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    For what it's worth, water isn't the best thing to drink if your goal is to minimize the felt heat of capsaicin. The Youtube channel Food Theory did an experiment where they determined that sour, sugary drinks like lemonade work best: youtube.com/watch?v=v0So51Q6GLg
    – nick012000
    Sep 14, 2021 at 7:08
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    I was surprised at the complete absence of heat by default when I got a burrito in LA. Luckily there was some hot salsa available to add though re-wrapping made for a bit of a mess. Here in the UK you'd be asked as it was being made.
    – Chris H
    Sep 14, 2021 at 13:10
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    How sure can you be that it wasn't a matter of quantity? A drizzle of hot salsa vs a ladleful of the same stuff could make a big difference.
    – Chris H
    Sep 14, 2021 at 13:57
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    Chipotle uses about 20% locally-purchased produce. This can certainly introduce some variations in their finished product, so if you're asking if it's intentional, I can't say. But it seems entirely plausible that it might be reality, regardless of intent.
    – AMtwo
    Sep 14, 2021 at 15:58
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    @XanderHenderson : I think the preferred technique is to shake a little on the burrito for each bite, rather than taking a swig directly from the bottle
    – Joe
    Sep 14, 2021 at 22:55

2 Answers 2

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The 4 major factors to why salsa is never the same on the perceived hotness (scolville level)

  1. Maturity and type of the pepper when used. If jalapeño peppers are allowed to mature on the vine they will lose some moisture and their capsaicin will be more concentrated. Scoville hotness will go up. If you use a different variety due to availability, it will be hard to match the batch every week.

  2. When water is used in pepper irrigation, and then it’s reduced due to rationing, the peppers will be smaller but capsaicin concentrated as well.

  3. Food Prep. As they follow a recipe, cooks will add (x) number of peppers. On average, this is a ballpark scolville hotness best guess. If you use 12 concentrated jalapeños as described above… it’s gonna be hotter than 12 med regular. Or because they were smaller you add 16 instead of 12. Same same.

  4. But as you know, if the chef has a higher tolerance then it may not seem hot enough to them and they add more. Meanwhile, the average Joe and Sally gets the fire… try milk.

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    All valid points, but with a restaurant chain like Chipotle I'd be surprised if they couldn't tune in their sauce no matter what all these parameters are. Consistency over quality, after all, people may want exactly what they're used to.
    – Robert
    Nov 10, 2021 at 22:05
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I don't have any specific information to answer "yes" or "no", but with no other answers, I would at least address the default: it should be "yes".

Restaurant chains and packaged food manufacturers fit their recipes to the local preferences. This is widespread practice, and there is nothing unusual or rare about it. They usually keep the same label, but produce it by a different recipe.

So when you combine the three points:

  • different recipes are common
  • heat preference clearly varies between cultures
  • you noticed a difference in taste, which is in line with what local heat preferences

then for me, it is overwhelmingly likely that in this case, the recipes are different.

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