The restaurant assured me that there was no “chilli” in the food, but it was still too hot for me. What other spices, etc. can cause the heat effect in the mouth?

It was a Sri Lankan restaurant, very reputable. My host had mistakenly told the waiter that I was allergic to chilli – in fact I have Lichen planus, which means I am super-sensitive to anything hot or spicy.

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    What cuisine was it?
    – GdD
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 14:09
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    I have to agree with @GdD on this one. If you can tell us what kind of cuisine you are dealing with and perhaps, if possible, what the dish was, or at least a description. Otherwise, we may just be giving you a long list of "hot" ingredients.
    – JTL
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 14:21
  • I've used cinnamon for heat, but I don't know the science behind it Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 15:36
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    It's still a good question in general, but it might be that in your case there was just a miscommunication and there was some sort of normal hot ingredient.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 17:32
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    If it was a Sri Lankan or other central Asian type of place, "no chilli" can often mean that they won't add additional (usually green) chillies to the dish during cooking. The gravy base will probably still contain heat from chilli powder (or cayenne pepper, depending on what you call it in your corner of the world).
    – J...
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 18:39

4 Answers 4


"Hotness" is a quite vague description which can be caused by a number of chemical compounds and is percieved by various receptors.

  • Chili peppers (capsicum) contain the alkaloid capsaicin. If your restaurant insisted that there were no chilis included, there is a slight possibility that they used it under another name (ethnic restaurants or other regions of the world come to mind) e.g. "pereroni" or "paprika".
    (Not that I am implying anything here!)
  • Black pepper (piper nigrum) and long pepper contains another alkaloid, the piperine, which gives the seeds their hotness.
  • Ginger contains gingerol, which is chemically similar to capsicain and piperine and can be very hot, especially in dried ginger, which loses a lot of the lemony-freshness and gains hotness due to chemical processes that change gingerol into shoagol, which is about twice as "hot". Shoagol has about 160,000 SHU on the scoville scale - more than piperine, less that capsicain.
  • Sichuan pepper (no relative despite the name) creates a less-hot-more-numb-to-tingling feeling.
  • Mustard and horseradish (and to a lesser extent radishes, cress and other cruciferous plants / brassicaceae) contain glucosinolates, which we percieve as pungent, sharp or hot. An extreme example for glucosinolate-hotness is wasabi.
  • Raw garlic and raw onions contain allicin (or, in onions, isoalliin) that has a sharp/biting/hot taste and which contributes to the percieved hotness of fresh garlic and the teary-eyed effect when chopping onions. Interesting fact: Allicin binds both to the receptors that percieve the capsicain-hotness and those for mustard-hotness.
  • Cinnamon contains an aromatic essential oil with cinnamaldehyde as main component. The essential oil is very hot, hence cinnamon can taste very hot, especially in "generous" doses.
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    Any radish, horse or not, to varying degrees... And grossly oversalted/metallic/bitter things can be sometimes mistaken for spicy (pain receptors ;) Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 14:49
  • Even vinegar can seem "hot" if there's a lot of it.
    – Catija
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 15:27
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    Probably worth mentioning more clearly that 'hotness' is often just pain receptors in the tongue. I'm betting concentrated sulphuric acid would taste 'hot', but strongly recommend no one tries to find out one way or another.
    – abligh
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 12:49
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    Cassia is often confused with true Cinnamon. Cassia is the predominant flavor of 'red hots' candies. Unlike Cassia, true Cinnamon ( which is less common in the US) has floral notes, with little to no 'hot' aspect.
    – JS.
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 17:04
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    @JS. Both cassia (Cinnamomum cassia) and true cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) contain cinnamaldehyde, the "hot" element.
    – Stephie
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 18:12

The first that come to mind are mustard seeds (white, yellow and black, the last the most pungent), peppercorns (all colors), ginger and horseradish.

All of them provide hotness to some extent, albeit a different hotness than the one provided by chili's. Just think about the intensity of wasabi to give you an idea of how "hot" it can get.

Turns out wasabi is actually a root, (I thought it was a paste of several ingredients, you learn something new everyday).

So add wasabi to the list of ingredients.

  • Just keep in mind that wasabi can only grown in one place. What you get in the Japanese cuisine is usually colored horse radish. Real wasabi is very expensive.
    – Escoce
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 15:03
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    @Escoce It's not true that wasabi can only be grown in one place. For example, there's a commercial wasabi grower in England.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 16:07
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    If I go to a local sushi place, then the "wasabi" I get is a paste of several ingredients without any relation to the wasabi root.
    – Peteris
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 18:34
  • @Peteris: That's why I'm getting at sushi places too ;) Thought it was some combination of horseradish, a mustardy substance, and green, which, most likely, it is. :) Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 5:54

Galangal has an interesting heat to it. You can buy it fresh or dried at Chinese or Vietnamese grocery stores. All four species of galangal are in the Ginger family, so expect similar, yet distinctly different tastes. Fresh is hotter and fuller than dried.


Ground cumin can be quite hot. It is used in Mexican and Asian cuisines, though I usually see chili peppers in the dish as well.

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    I disagree with you @RossMilikan, I've had cumin varieties from all over and not one of them has tasted hot. Cumin is very often paired with chili powder or mustard or some other thing that is hot, but it is not hot in itself.
    – GdD
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 16:14
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    @GdD: I buy cumin both whole and ground. The whole is not hot at all, even if I grind it, but I find the already ground has a bite. Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 16:27

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