For medical reasons, my friend who adores spicy-hot food, is trying to cut down. What can we do to food to make it taste "less bland"?

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    This could be a book... its basically "how do I make flavorful food." Can you narrow the question down to something more concrete and answerable? – SAJ14SAJ Oct 24 '13 at 21:25
  • Wait for your friend's taste buds to grow back, and this'll become a non-issue. :) – Marti Oct 24 '13 at 21:38
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    There are chemicals other than capsaicin which can give a sensation of heat, but I don't know if your friend can tolerate allyl isocyanate, gingerol, piperine, or shagaol. – SourDoh Oct 24 '13 at 22:02
  • @SAJ14SAJ, how about what other flavors and spices do lovers of capsaicin gravitate towards? Though then it is even more of a discussion style question. – Eruditass Oct 24 '13 at 23:29
  • @CS5ServiceManager A mix of caraway seed and cumin, with Soy sauce and or Fish sauce can be pretty tasty without added capsaicin. There are lots of similar good combinations available if you take some time to learn spicing, but isn't reflux usually brought on by the amount and carb/fat/protein proportions of food, rather than the flavorants? – Wayfaring Stranger Oct 25 '13 at 1:39

It depends on the medical reason. If it's a sensitive esophagus or stomach caused by GERD, replacing the capsaicin with pungent components, like mustard or black pepper, or strong acidic or base components, like vinegar, wine or citrus, may be out as well. Even alumvarics like onions and garlic may be out. By contrast, ginger can provide intense heat on the tongue, but is also recognized as a remedy for stomach upset. They will need to check with the doctor or nutritionist to see what's OK.

Used well, the boring old residents of the spice rack can provide strong and piquant flavor profiles without the irritation hot peppers in all their incarnations can introduce. Many traditional Continental, African, Near Eastern (Including Greek) and East Asian recipes that don't rely on heat for flavor are "adapted" for a mid-20th century Anglo-American palate - they're blander and less complex than the originals. Seek out traditional recipes and techniques, or 21st century interpretations, rather than rely on outdated Anglicized recipes. Don't be afraid to explore uncommon cuisines as well - Afghan cuisine, for instance, is very mild yet intensely flavorful - a mix of Near Eastern and Indian flavors that doesn't rely on heat.

Here is an article on intensifying and improving the flavors of commonly used spices and herbs. In summation:

  • Use fresh and freshly ground whole spices (I use a "magic bullet" style blender) rather than stale pre-powdered preparations.
  • Use fresh, green herbs rather than dried flakes - oregano is the exception.
  • Toast whole spices in a pan on low heat before they're ground, or bloom herbs and spices in hot oil, and use the oil as the flavorant.

Here is an article on common techniques to build strong flavor in dishes without introducing spiciness. In a nutshell -

  • Bloom the spices (as above)
  • Roast vegetables rather than sauteĆ©, steam or stew.
  • Don't neglect the aromatics, such as sofrito or mirepoix. (Here is another article on selecting and using aromatic components)
  • Confit (poach in oil) powerful aromatics like garlic.
  • Use hygroscopic seasonings (salt or sugar especially) to draw out water and intensify flavors.
  • Brown butter before introducing it to the recipe.
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My boyfriend loves spicy foods and he loves garlic. People who like spicy foods usually like really powerful flavors. So, anything super sour, like lemon or vinegar, or super salty, like soy sauce or...salt... Hope this helps.

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