It's easy to make food more spicy by dumping a bag of ground hot pepper in it, or adding a pound of sambal, or pick one of the capsaicin concentrates and add a few drops.

I'm interested though in methods/additions to spicy food that make it more hot - which are not (or only mildly) spicy in themselves.

One way I know is to make it literally hot; the sensations add up. Another common one, though not applicable frequently is alcohol, which acts twofold, washing off any isolating substances like thin layers of oil etc off your taste buds, and increases blood circulation making absorption of substances faster.

What other ways are there to make food feel more hot than its capsaicin content would suggest?

  • 1
    I think acidity increases perceived heat... but curious, why do you want to do this? A lot of hot peppers actually have a pretty nice flavor. Use them instead of not so great tasting ground red pepper.
    – derobert
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 17:44
  • @derobert: When last time I dumped half a bag of chili into the pot and came up with what was just mildly spicy, I came to conclusion that adding even more peppers is not the way to go. It's not that I want to use less peppers, I just don't want to use the ludicrous amounts that would be needed to make my dishes as hot as I want them.
    – SF.
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 9:56
  • Either you're using the wrong peppers, or I must tip my hat to you, that hot when you have dumped half a bag of, say, ground habanero into it, and its still not hot enough for you.
    – derobert
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 12:53
  • 2
    Ok, the "ground red chili" you get in the store often isn't really that hot. Switching to mail-order cayenne (like the Frontier 90,000 SHU stuff you can get on Amazon) or other chili peppers will entirely solve your lack-of-heat issue. E.g., a single fresh habanero pepper chopped up and added, seeds and all, to your chili will give you a fair bit of heat, possibly more than you want... Skip the seeds for a less heat.
    – derobert
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 15:09
  • 1
    This may not be quite what you're looking for, but there are other compounds that the palate registers as "hot". You could try adding more of these to round out the flavor while still increasing heat. Here is a list.
    – SourDoh
    Commented Oct 5, 2013 at 15:23

1 Answer 1


If you wish to explore adding spiciness to a dish, there are two primary methods for increasing the heat: additive and reductive. The one you choose will depend on the dish and what you are trying to get out of it.

For something like a simple oil and pasta dish, the latter may be preferable, whereas with something like a three meat chili the former may be better.

One that I couldn't quite class was thermal. The capsaicin acts on the VR1 Ion Channel, which is somewhat heat dependent. At higher heat (in excess of 42'C/107'F), the channel remains open longer and gaps between openings drop. You may want to avoid reducing the heat of the dish when served. However, this was dependent on a higher ambient temperature, so your subject may need to have a fever or something. For the findings:

Instead, heat had a localized effect on the reduction of long closures between bursts (of ionic receptivity) ... and the elongation of burst durations. ...Both membrane lipids and solution ionic strength affected the temperature threshold of the activation, but neither diminished the response

Reductive Methods

If you wish to simplify your dish, reductive methods would be ideal. They are simply ones in which you would analyze the ingredients that you are using in your dish, assessing which ones either water down or act as solvents of the capsaicin, and then remove them.

Capsaicin is lipophilic, fat soluble. If you have dairy products, excess fat from meat that could have been rendered, and so on, I would remove or substitute these as possible. Alcohol in some contexts can dissolve the capsaicin, however does not typical work in this fashion when consumed or if combined in the same dish (i.e. if the capsaicin has nowhere to dissolve).

Additive Methods

If you are not concerned about adding complexity, additive methods may be ideal. This approach will include not just adding a given capsaicin medium, but could also include adding a variety of them. This would also include adding items like beer, tomato, or really any carbonated, acidic, or alcoholic liquid that enhance expression of flavors generally and not just of capsaicin.

If you add only one medium (ground cayenne, capsaicin extract, etc), you will have only one form of the spiciness. The concentration and distribution of the capsaicin will be singular.

If you think about the dishes' ingredients as a range of slots to fill, food preparation will only distribute the capsaicin of the capsaicin medium into a given number and type of slots. However, if you utilize a number of capsaicin media, then the range of slots will begin to open up and the expression of the spiciness will become more diverse.

Although I am unsure how to express this in chemical terms, I think that this is a decent way of explaining the phrase "the heat builds." A "building heat" is one that relies on more than one capsaicin medium; a good case for this might be a 4-pepper chili where the heat is derived from multiple types of hot peppers.

  • Both of these methods are effectively the same thing: increasing the overall percentage of heat bearing spices in the dish.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 19:58
  • @SAJ14SAJ He's asking for the same effective thing (adding to the perception of spiciness), but with differing methods
    – mfg
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 20:02
  • @SAJ14SAJ: In the reductive method you don't need to remove the medium - you can replace it with a substitute, then the percentage doesn't change but the contact surface grows as normally dilution media would isolate capsaicin from contact with receptors. Additive methods - increase taste sensitivity; also while I doubt more capsaicin media would help, I guess adding other sources of spiciness - piperine (black pepper), or vapors (wasabi) in parallel, as they will attack other receptors than the saturated by capsaicin ones.
    – SF.
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 22:45

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