Love is in the air, what with it being Valentine’s Day in a few weeks – it’s that Hallmark-inspired period of the winter when the price of roses goes through the roof, anything with a heart on it doubles in price, and restaurant prices triple for one day only – if you can get a reservation, that is.
This year, of course, restaurants are shut – so none of that desperate ringing round trying to find somewhere nice to impress your partner – but it’s got me thinking about love. Not is a mawkish, barf-inducing, music-swelling-in-the-background Disney kind of way – more in a kind of ‘love/hate relationship with food’ way.
One of things I hear all the time at events is ‘I love chilli’…‘I hate chilli’…’I hate garlicky flavours’… OK that last one is me, but it’s interesting to drill down into what people actually mean when they come out with statements like that.
The ‘I hate garlic’ thing, I can entirely get on board with. I’m not as bad as I used to be, but the smell of garlic (when cooking, mainly) can easily make me a little bit queasy. I generally have no problem as part of a recipe, especially if I can use lazy garlic instead – it’s the smell I can’t stand. But many people adore the aroma, and that’s cool, if that’s your thing. Just don’t invite me round for dinner, I may just barf in the pot plants.
The phrase ‘I hate chilli’ normally translates to ‘I hate heat’. I have great fun with those customers (if they bother to listen to my insane prattling), because of course they’re labouring under the very common misapprehension that all chillies are created equal, and they’re all hot. Of course they aren’t, though they do have one thing in common – they all taste of chilli! It’s like saying that all beer tastes the same, it’s patently untrue.
So just like a lager isn’t the same as a stout, so equally a jalapeño is not a reaper, a rocoto or a scotch bonnet. There are some basic similarities of course, but the flavour is different, the heat profile is different – and more importantly, how you use it is different. Now I’m not the best example in the world when it comes to hot stuff (bit weird for a chilli farm owner to say that), but put jalapeño poppers in front of me and I’ll munch away quite happily. Make that Trinidad Scorpion poppers and I’m tapping out, thank you very much! Using a splash of our Trinidad Scorpion sauce in a curry – fine…chugging it out of the bottle? – not on your life!
So not all chillies are hot, but similarly, the ‘I love chilli’ statement is often synonymous with ‘I want my food to hurt’. It always amazes me how many customers (usually blokes, ‘cos we’re a bit stupid like that) just want to eat something that’ll put their arsehole into traction a few hours later. This always baffles me, as I have a pretty moderate heat versus flavour threshold and can quite easily sail past it. Once it gets too hot, I can’t detect flavours – that’s the same with most people, though of course my threshold is different to the next person’s, which is different to the next, etc. A few people I meet at shows appear not to have a threshold, and frankly those people scare me! Don’t people want their food to taste nice?
It’s that last group that products like God Slayer and Regret are aimed at. They are perfectly useable in everyday cooking, of course they are (as long as you have a steady hand), but we’re under no illusion that a significant percentage of what we sell isn’t simply being used as weaponised chilli. The fact that it tastes good is seemingly lost on most people…the nuances from the chilli, garlic and bourbon back flavours are lost somewhat when someone’s just taken a swig from their pint glass, only to pint it’s had Regret smeared round the rim and they now feel like The Joker!
Textures are weird when it comes to food. My fiancée, for example, hates bananas because of the texture, but doesn’t mind banana-flavoured things. It’s amazing how powerful a force the mind is when it comes to these things, because evolution will have made our bodies quite happy to eat anything edible, but it’s the mind that stops us. I wouldn’t even contemplate eating snails, but why? It’s all in the mind, there’s no logical reason not to. But snails just look…snotty. Just say no, kids!
And what about those things we’re societally conditioned not to eat? It’s not illegal in many countries, but many people wouldn’t touch horse meat on principle, simply because it’s from a horse…and they’re pets, aren’t they? But, I say, you can have a pet cow, or pig, or chicken, or duck, or sheep, or fish…you get my point. If someone offered me Shergar and chips I’d struggle to think of a evolutionary-based reason not to give it a go, as long as it was humanely reared and slaughtered – that’s more important to me. And that’s before we bring religious concerns into play, which are of life and death importance to some people, and completely trivial to others. Not touching that discussion with a 10-foot-pole (as a devout pastafarian, I would say that!).
We’re all different, that’s for sure. For some, Mango Chilli Sauce is too hot…for others, it barely touches the sides. That’s cool, we love everyone that uses our stuff, whether it’s the mildest chilli jam or the craziest ultrahot sauce. We should all respect each other’s views on flavours, and heat, and textures…we’re all a bit odd when it comes to what we’re prepared to put in our mouths (stop sniggering at the back).
But if you think Sweet Chilli Sauce is hot…we are going to take the p*ss 😊
A marriage is always made up of two people who are prepared to swear that only the other one snores
Terry Pratchett, from ‘The Fifth Elephant’