Black pepper is the typical Euro-American hot condiment; hot sauces have overtaken ketchup as the most popular American flavoring, and chile peppers have been spicing up kitchens around the world for a long time.
The hot flavor(s) are actually much less common than it may seem, though.
They are also more diverse and less truly, simply hot.
With the chile peppers themselves, we find true pungency, hotness – to the point that capsaicinoids, the chemicals that give them their fire, indeed activate the same receptors that inform us of heat, temperature-wise. They do come in a range of aromas and flavors, though.
Peppers, chief among them Piper nigrum L., the common black pepper, are the other spices with a true pungency. Long pepper (Piper longum L.), although rather uncommon nowadays, used to be even more valuable than black pepper; P. cubeba is also noteworthy.
Sichuan pepper, as well as some herbs such as water pepper, impart a seemingly hot flavor, making the tongue tingle rather like an electric current. The effect is actually an anesthetic, numbing one. Still, they sometimes replaced the more expensive black pepper, and they can be used to interesting effect in the kitchen.
Mustards also provide pungency, again through a different pathway: With them, it is essential oils that taste pungent and go right into the nose. Japanese wasabi holds a special place among them.
Gingers are a final group of plants providing warm flavor in the kitchen, among them not just the usual ginger, but also turmeric (curcuma) which gives yellow curries their color and zing (as well as having great health properties).
Recently, I have also come across a Chinese “mountain pepper” which is related to the North American spicebush; both of them belong to the family of laurels. So, their “pungency” comes from other essential oils, yet again.
Whether “heat,” pungency, zing or tingling, they all provide the most interesting taste sensations, well worth exploring and experimenting with…
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