What Makes Thai Food Spicy: Beginner’s Guide to Thai Chilies
Thai food is known to be spicy, but what makes Thai food spicy?
In this blog post, we will explore how different kinds of chilies and sauces make up the various flavors found in Thai cuisine.
And if you’re looking for a more authentic experience, don’t worry, there are plenty of Thai dishes that will satisfy your cravings without leaving your mouth on fire.
What Are Chili Peppers?
Chili peppers are a type of fruit indigenous to the group Capsicum but don’t let their sweet appearance fool you, most of them are far from being sweet.
Chili peppers are spicy, but you can find a variety of types that range from mild to hot. The heat in chilies comes from the chemical capsaicin and is measured on the Scoville scale (SHU – Scoville Heat Units).
What Is The Scoville Scale (SHU – Scoville Heat Units)
The Scoville Scale is a measurement of the spicy heat in chili peppers.
Chili pepper levels, often described as mild (100-2,500 Scoville Units), medium (2500-30,000), hot 30,000-100,000), and extra hot 100K+).
|Pungency||SHU (Scoville Heat Units)|
|Very high||Above 80,000|
|High||25,000 to 70,000|
|Moderately||3,000 to 25,000|
|Mildly||700 to 3,000|
|Non||0 to 700|
The scale was invented by Wilbur Scoville and originally measured how much sugar water extract would be required to dilute a taste enough that it did not cause an effect on people’s tongues.
Chili peppers have different levels of strength when it comes to spiciness; some will only give you a slight tingle while others may leave your mouth feeling numb for hours after ingestion.
How Hot Are Thai Peppers?
Thai peppers are often thought of as the spiciest, but they don’t actually rank that high on the Scoville Scale.
They’re not even on the top 20 list!
The hottest chili pepper is a tiny little thing called “The Carolina Reaper”.
It clocks in at over two million units on the Scoville scale.
I love my spicy food and can handle a lot of spice but even for me, this would be too much. lol
How to Stop Your Mouth From Burning
As a pepper eater, I know all too well the searing pain you experience when chili peppers get their way.
It’s not fun and it can make for an unpleasant dining experience if your mouth is on fire.
There are few things more irritating than having to spend your time at dinner trying to soothe that burning sensation while other people laugh at how uncomfortable you look – but don’t worry!
The following tips will help ensure that this doesn’t happen again:
Drinking milk can help. Milk contains calcium which works wonders for calming down the burn.
Adding sour cream to your Thai dish can also help reduce the burn – but I would recommend not adding too much or you ruin the overall flavor of the dish.
Sugar-free popsicles are another option for those who want something cold and sweet in their mouths while they eat. They’re practically like ice cream in this situation!
Water, I find water to be the most effective after milk. It’s free and can be great for cooling off the burn.
Lemon water is also a good choice for helping to cool the mouth due to its natural sourness and its citric acid content (hello Vitamin C!)
If you’re really having a tough time with the chili burn though, then I would recommend trying milk or sour cream first to see if that helps!
Aloe Vera water, if you want something a little more bitter and soothing, then this is another option for those with mouth burns.
In my personal experience eating or drinking anything sweet can increase the burning sensation.
If you want something more substantial, try eating yogurt with cucumber slices.
8 Type Of Chilies Used In Thai Food
The first thing we need to know about Thai food is the different types of chili peppers used in its cuisine.
There are two main styles:
- The dried, ground chilies give dishes like Pad Kee Mao and Green Curry their signature color and spice.
- And fresh peppers create a much spicier taste profile for dishes like stir-fries and Pad Kra Praw.
The following are 8 chili peppers that are often used in Thai cuisine:
1. Prik Chee Fah (5,000-30,000 SHU)
Also known as the ‘sky pointing chili’’. They are usually three to four inches in length and can be either green or red. The red peppers are usually hotter compared to the green ones.
2. Prik Leung (30,000 SHU)
You will normally find this type of chili in salads and is orange in color. They have a kick but are not super hot, making them perfect for salads.
3. Prik Kaleang (50,000-100,000 SHU)
Beware of this chili, it is known to be one of the spiciest Thai chilies. This chili is used in curries and is most popular in northern Thailand.
4. Prik Kee Noo (70000 SHU)
Also known as birdseye chilies, are the most common chili in Thai cuisine. They have a medium-hot taste and look like a smaller version of serrano peppers that is usually used in Indian food.
5. Prik Jinda (75,000 SHU)
Prik Jindacan be found in many Thai dishes. It’s not as hot as some other peppers, but it will still provide enough kick for most people.
6. Prik Yuak (SHU Unknown )
This type of chili can grow up to 7 inches in length, however, it is not as hot as the other popular Thai chilies. It is often used in pickles and in noodle soups.
7. Prik Ban Chang (SHU Unknown )
This pepper is long and smooth with either red or green skin. It is mostly spicy but has fewer seeds than other peppers. It is usually used in curries and chili pastes.
8. Prik Mun (SHU Unknown )
These papers are usually dark green or red peppers and are normally used to make pickles and served as condiments in Thai restaurants.
Hottest Thai Dish
The hottest Thai dish is called Red Curry, but the heat will vary depending on which type of chilies are being used.
For example, if you’re using fresh chilies instead of ground dried chilies then your curry will be much spicier than if all you have available to use is some store-bought chili powder.
In this case, it’s not only about how many chilies are used – but their freshness as well.
You can also control the spice by adding more or less sugar (or sweetener) at any point during cooking.
Chilies & Thai Food?
Black pepper is the most common spice found in Thai dishes, but chilies are what make a dish really hot.
The type of chili that you use will depend on how spicy you want your food to be. The more seeds and membranes there are inside the peppers, the spicier it’ll taste!
At least one ingredient in every single Thai curry recipe (except for those with coconut milk) has some form of chili or red pepper paste.
This ingredient can also be mixed into any stir-fry sauce as well as many other sauces – giving them an extra kick without adding too much heat at once.
Chilies come in various shapes, sizes, and colors from jalapenos to cayenne or more traditional Thai chilies such as Prik Yuak and Prik Kaleang peppers.
The most popular type of chili used in Thailand is the Prik Chee Fah.
They offer a mildly spicy flavor that gives dishes an earthy taste with a nice tang.
As far as spiciness goes, this chili rates between 5,000-30,000 SHU on the Scoville Scale – so not super hot!
Why Are Chilies Spicy?
Chiles contain a chemical compound known as capsaicin (capsaicinoids). This is what gives chiles their heat.
Capsaicinoids have been shown to help increase metabolism by increasing body temperature through nerve endings close to the surface of your skin; this is what makes you feel hot when you bite into a chili.
Capsaicinoids also stimulate the release of endorphins, which are natural painkillers and mood boosters.
It is found that people who eat spicy foods tend to have higher levels of these chemicals in their systems than those who don’t!
This means you’ll be more alert after eating Thai food than if you ate something non-spicy like soup or macaroni and cheese.
Is It Good To Eat Chilies Every Day?
The answer is no. It might sound like a good idea to eat chilies in abundance since they have so many health benefits, but it’s actually not that great for your stomach and digestive system.
While the capsaicin from peppers does help with things such as pain relief, indigestion prevention, or boosting metabolism, too much can cause acid reflux disorder (GERD) and heartburn due to over-stimulation of nerve endings on the esophagus lining.
The best way to enjoy chili peppers is to eat them moderately and trying to balance out the foods that you eat with other, non-spicy food.
What Can I Use Instead Of Thai Chilies?
Thai chilies can be difficult to find in the western world. You are most likely to find them in an Asian supermarket.
Worst-case scenario, if you don’t have an Asian supermarket near you, then you can substitute them with other chilies such as:
- Serrano chilies
- Rocket Chilies
If I can’t find any Thai chiles, I usually substitute them with rocket chilies or jalapenos which are easier to find.
Thai food is one of the spiciest cuisines in the world. The cuisine has been influenced by both Indian and Chinese cultures, which are also very spicy.
Thai food is spicy because it’s made with a variety of spices and sauces that are hot, such as chili peppers.
Chili peppers are used in many dishes throughout the world to add flavor and spice according to individual taste.
Some people enjoy eating them, while others cannot tolerate their heat.
The Scoville scale measures how hot something tastes by measuring its extractable capsaicinoids content–the higher the number on the scale, the hotter it will be for you!
If you want to avoid burning your mouth from all those delicious chilies found in Thai cuisine (and other cuisines), the following drinks can help reduce the fire in your mouth.
- Lemon water
- Aloe Vera water
Keep in mind eating too many chilies is not good for you, always eat them moderately.
I hope this article has been helpful in answering your question of what makes Thai food spicy.
If you have any tips or advice when it comes to chilies, please share them in the comments.
Let’s share and learn together!