What does ‘spicy’ mean to you…?

This weekend I spent Saturday at the BBC Good Food Show manning the stand of my lovely friend Sanjay (Sanjay and I bottom right, above) and his even lovelier business Spice Kitchen UK, along with Sanjay himself and his lovely Mum, aka Mamma Spice…

Above: Sanjay and his Mum, and examples of their beautiful spice tins covered with beautiful wraps made from saris, handmade by Mamma Spice.

What a great way to spend a day, surrounded by such beautiful products, supporting lovely people and talking about spices. It made me realise just how much I know about spices, and food history, and ways to use spices, and the various spice mixes, it was a revelation to myself if no one else!

It also made me realise that the people I was talking to seemed to fall into 3 groups:

Those who love spices, and are comfortable and confident using them, and loved finding spices available of such great quality;

Those who are venturing into the world of spice and would like to learn how to use spices more in their cooking*;

And those who totally disregard spices and tell you that ‘they don’t like spicy food’.

And it’s this word ‘spicy’ that made me want to write this post.

When I talked more to this group of people, if they stopped long enough to chat, what I discovered is that most of them viewed ‘spicy’ food as hot, as in chilli hot. They’re experience has often only been hot curry and they haven’t been impressed and have therefore written off ‘spicy’ food as a result.

To me, food cooked with spices is full of flavour and aroma and warmth and layers. The decision to add chilli remains with the cook, although using spices is not a prerequisite for including chilli. I often use collections of slices in dishes where no chilli is included.

One lady told me specifically, and quite disdainfully, that she didn’t like spicy food and didn’t use spices, but her son did and she bought him a spice tin as a gift. Before she walked away, I couldn’t help myself and asked her if she makes Christmas cake; she answered that she does. So I asked if she puts spices in it; and she answered that she does, listing cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. And so, I said….you DO cook with spices 🙂

So, what does spicy food mean to you? Is it a description that has become synonymous with chilli hot food? Is a better description for food full of flavour developed from spices, but not chilli, ‘spiced’ food? What do you think?

*By the way, to those people who want to know more about cooking with spices, I highly suggest that you take time to read recipes and see how cooks and chefs put spices together. I would cook exactly to recipes for a while whilst building your confidence, then start ditching the measuring spoon and going with your gut. And remember that there is no right or wrong here, just degrees of flavour.

17 thoughts on “What does ‘spicy’ mean to you…?

  1. Liz @ spades, spatulas, and spoons

    I think in the US that spicy is synonymous for the heat from chilis. But I like your definition better. I personally like food with lots of spices and adore discovering new ones to cook with. I also like food with a little heat, although they don’t need to be in the same dish. What a fun way to spend a day. Lucky you to have such talented friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Elaine @ foodbod Post author

      Thank you, I know lots of us share a love of spices 😍
      It was a great day, and they are such lovely people, they’ve worked very hard to create their business and it shows. It was a pleasure to join them for the day x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. chilliandmint

    I am so on the same page as you when it comes to spice. Spice does absolutely NOT mean hot. You can have beautifully spiced and aromatic food that is not chilli hot but is spiced. I think it’s largely down to a large swathes of people not knowing how to use the spices and what vegetables, meats and fish they go with. I try to show as many people as I can how to cook with spices and not to be afraid of them. Lovely post Elaine.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Aruna

    In Indian languages, the words for heat from chilli and warmth from spices are different. However, that nuance cannot be replicated in English so (for some reason) the word “spicy” became synonymous with chilli-laden.

    And the way Indians use chilli is very nuanced as well. Fresh green chillies, dried

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mary

    I use a lot spices in my cooking both sweet and Savory dishes, but, I do shy away from a lot of chilli. If the dish is too chilli hot I can’t taste it over the burn!! I love using spice and experimenting. I often make a curry with just a smidgen of chilli or none then I can taste all the lovely warm spices.
    I wouldn’t half love one of those spice tins in the pictures. But then it would look so cute and ‘keepable’ I would probably save it and never use them!!!!
    Love your blog, always look forward to your next one coming!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Elaine @ foodbod Post author

      I agree with you completely! Too much chilli just kills the flavours for me too, I want to taste everything, not just the chilli!
      The tins are beautiful aren’t they? I think they’re the kind of gift that you really need to buy two of: one for you, one for your recipient 🙂
      Thank you for your kind words, I’m so glad you like my little blog x


  5. sallybr

    Great post, Elaine! indeed, most people associate spicy with hot and that is such a small component of it!

    you are the spice queen, and having this opportunity to share your wisdom with people is so amazing! I hope you can do this again and again…

    I also find pretty nice the use of spices in sweets – in small doses, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Laura

    Great post Elaine and you did make me think and pause about ‘spice’ Vs ‘heat’ – I agree too often people put them in the same camp – but they are so many ways to use spices (as you always show) that doesn’t involve a creation that will leave your nose running and eyes watering! Have a great weekend. Laura

    Liked by 1 person


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