Spiciness is a quantifiable yet relativistic concept. The level of tolerance for the little red and green devils depends a lot on what you ate as a child. Nevertheless, we all have a limit, not just with the tongue but the stomach as well. Although I have never suffered the misfortune of a stomach upset after a crewdate at Jamal’s (for me I cannot taste any spices from their food), pretty much all of us spice-lovers have to endure the pain on a bad day. Spices, however, are not as antagonistic to our digestive system as you might think: in fact, if eaten well they can make your stomach stronger! Here are several things you might want to consider when craving that hot taste:
1. Not all spices are the same! Most hot spices are obtained from a pepper or chilli plant, though some plant leaves, like mustard greens, are also spicy, and so are some roots, like ginger and horseradish. Chilli peppers contain an ingredient called capsaicin, which causes irritation to the skin when getting into contact and can prevent the normal functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. But many other spices are known to help digestion: ginger, for example, helps to reduce gas, bloating, cramping within the stomach, and may even help with menstrual cramping. Cardamom, as part of the ginger family, performs a similar role in digestion while also providing a source for minerals. Cumin and turmeric, although not spicy in taste, can also be of service to digestive health.
2. Try to limit the intake of other foods which may irritate the stomach. Indian and Mexican food, the two cuisines that receive the vast majority of accusations for causing tummy troubles, contain a lot of other ingredients: red meat, butter (ghee especially), cheese, acid, and portions of oil. Even if your stomach can tolerate a high degree of spiciness, it might not be able to tackle a combined cohort of spices and other ingredients. There are plenty of spicy dishes that are healthier than a greasy takeaway curry-my recommendations would be daal, Korean kimchi stew and seafood tacos.
3. Try to compliment spicy food with the right drinks as well. Caffeine and alcohol are the devils in this regard, while fizzy drinks can cause gas and bloating which are not helpful either. Drink some yoghurt to increase the good bacteria in your gut: a tip here is to order a delicious side of raita in an Indian restaurant. Alternatively, you can also drink cold water to cool down the inflammation caused by spices. So lock up your booze cupboard and pick up some Activia the next time you are feeling chilli.