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ON COOKING: How to add heat to a meal

Chef Dez has suggestions for people who want to spice up their food
Chef Dez (

by Chef Dez/Special to Black Press Media

Since we are in the middle of winter, this is the ideal moment to infuse some bold flavors into your home menu. The joy of indulging in a bowl of comfort food is unparalleled during the chilly weather, and adding a touch of spice can elevate the experience even further. Several methods and resources are available to accomplish adding “fire to your fork.”

While the classic method of using dried crushed chilies or dried ground cayenne pepper is common, it’s crucial to acknowledge that these spices lose their potency over time.

Do you know which spice jars I am referring to? The ones that have not been replenished for years. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating (slightly), but contrary to popular belief dried spices do not last forever. To ensure freshness and optimal flavor enhancement, replenish your stock of ground spices and herbs every 10 to 12 months. Opting for bulk spice sections in supermarkets is both manageable and cost-effective. Whole spices, as opposed to ground, have a longer shelf life, making a small spice grinder a worthwhile investment.

While dried crushed chilies are handy, they require time to rehydrate for their full heat potential. Although this a good standby when you have no other available options, there are many other ways.

For instant heat and flavor, consider the convenience of Sambal Oelek, a crushed chili sauce that requires no rehydration. Found in the international food aisle of major grocery stores, this product is a kitchen essential. I use it in countless recipes, and it’s fantastic for adding instant heat to a dish or a different dimension of flavour. Once the jar is opened it will last in the refrigerator almost indefinitely.

Fresh chili peppers have been ever increasing in popularity, and consequently the available options in produce sections have multiplied. They range in varying degrees of hotness with Anaheim peppers being one of the milder options. Jalapenos or chipotles supply a moderate amount of heat with Scotch bonnets and habaneros being some of the hottest.

The amount of heat that a pepper provides is measured scientifically in Scoville units developed by a Professor Wilber L. Scoville in 1912. The majority of this heat comes from not only the seeds, but the inner whitish membranes as well. For flavour with less heat, discard these inner portions.

When handling hot peppers, be certain to not touch your eyes or other sensitive areas. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly upon completion. I find that cold water and soap works the best. If hot or warm water is used, the pores in your skin enlarge trapping the pepper oils in your fingers. One of the best precautions is to wear latex gloves, especially when handling extremely hot peppers.

If the thought of using fresh hot peppers sounds too much like work, there are a number of hot sauces on the market to ease your preparation.

Dear Chef Dez,

Is it just me, or do you find that jalapeno peppers aren’t as hot as they used to be?

John M., Chilliwack

Dear John,

You are absolutely right. When I was a teenager, it was considered daring to order these fiery green rings on nachos, and downing three or four slices was a feat in itself. I won’t reveal how long ago that was, but the demand for these peppers have grown considerably over the years. Through some investigation, I learned that many of them are now cultivated to be milder. This is done to expand the appeal of this pepper to a larger consumer market and thus increase sales. For those of us who enjoy jalapenos really hot, we now must eat more of them, switch to hotter peppers, or find a reliable source of ones that are not modified to be milder.



– Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley. Visit him at Send questions to or to P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4


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