There is certainly a fact of sensitivity. Just google "supertasters" to see how much difference there can be. I grew up with very bland food. My mom would complain if you so much as waved the black pepper shaker over the pot. ;-)
Once I got to college, I very quickly adapted to the point where I enjoyed a fair bit of heat in my food. My daughters complain about food when I can't even detect any heat.
There are also probably physiological reactions that vary as well. One of the reactions to spicy food is the release of endorphins. Some people get a spicy food high. ;-)
There are men of European descent that develop a tolerance to spicyness just to show how tough they are. There is the notable case a few months back of the Scottish man that died after eating too many peppers. There are many reasons one might choose to cultivate a tolerance, besides just liking the taste.
BOT here's a black hot pepper spread that I discovered in my West African travels.
Shito -- Ghanaian black hot pepper paste. Evil stuff, IMHO, but they love it. It includes peppers, which is fine by me, but it also has dried fish and/or shrimp in it, and you cannot miss the powerful taste of dried fish. Blech! But I know people who swear by it. It's very spicy (OMG do not try to stay in the house, while someone is cooking it. Most people cook it outside, over coal pots.) It's eaten with the local cuisine, to spice things up.
lol! The first time it was offered to me, I thought to myself, "Yep. It's called shito, because it looks and taste like s***" And it does, to me. :lol:
Interesting. When I searched on shito (to be sure of the spelling,) I found links to Solomon Gundy (a Jamaican fish pate with chili peppers) and Chinese chili oil. If you had to describe them all, sc'hug, shito, Solomon Gundy and chili oil all have pretty much the same description -- lots of peppers, submerged in oil, plus something else (fish, shrimp, cilantro, etc.) It's pretty neat how that culture seems to have developed basically the same thing -- hot pepper sauce/spread -- independently.
If by "favorite" you mean "use on EVERYTHING", Sirracha.
I'm currently drying some "Holy Mole" peppers (another seed variety I grew this year) and some Thai peppers (serranos) that I got at a roadside stand. That does seem to be one of the things that grew well around here. My mom didn't grow any Thai peppers this year, but when she does, somehow they always come out screaming hot. Like, my Dad's Indian coworker back at Ford thought they were too hot (though his wife apparently said 'eh, they're not too bad.')
When I was in culinary school, when I was in International Cuisine, I mentioned to Chef that mom had grown serranos and sent me some and she said sure, bring them in for Southeast Asia day. So I was sitting there before class with a bag of these tiny, pointed, clearly deadly peppers. One of the guys comes in and sits down behind me.
Guy: What are those?
Me: Homegrown serranos for Chef.
Guy: Are they hot?
Me: Yeah, they're pretty hot.
Guy: I bet I could eat a whole one.
Me: They're really hot.
Guy: Bet I could do it.
Me: [thinking] Your funeral. [aloud] Okay. [Gives him pepper]
Guy: [eats whole pepper] [long pause, turning redder and redder] I'm gonna go get some milk.
Me: You do that.
He did not get a lot of sympathy from the rest of the class...
Flip side of @doi's story. I was Notre Dame for an experiment. As some pseudo-mexican restaurant, we got some nachos with pickled jalapenos on the side. Without really thinking about it, I snarfed them down with some chips. When the server came back around I asked if we could have some more. I got this shocked look. "You ate them all? And you want more?"
The stores here have something called "tamed" jalapenos -- a hybrid mix of regular hot jalapenos and bell peppers. (Developed by Texas A&M for Mezzetta company, which sells pickles, olives and peppers) Supposedly, tamed jalapenos have the jalapeno flavor in a much milder pepper. My thoughts? What is the point? If I wanted mild, I wouldn't be eating jalapenos. :wink:
I actually just pick the hot peppers from my CSA and toss them in the freezer. When I want to use them I take them out and throw them into the pot. And here's another alternative to deseeding peppers to make them milder. I would say if you like mild choose a milder pepper like Hungarian wax, hotter choose one higher on the Scottsville scale like Thai. A second option for adjusting hotness or pungency? I typically use 2 cayenne peppers in most of my dishes as a medium moderate heat that I like. If I want more heat I can add more peppers, and less I can use just one.
Too funny. I just googled the SHUs in jalapenos and in cayenne. Turns out cayenne is much hotter (60,000 SHUs on average -- 30K to 190K range) than jalapenos (2500 - 8000)
Wow. Perception and exposure definitely make a difference. I was raised eating cayenne -- fresh, dried, green, red. Doesn't seem hot to me. I got exposed to jalapenos only a few years ago and they seem hotter, to me, than cayenne.
I feel a taste-testing experiment coming on. What the heck did I do with my precision scale? (Must be a controlled experiment. Boy. I am insane... in a good way, I hope.)
Serrano peppers are on sale for $$0.50 a pound a my local Target this week. (Down from $1.99 -- a really good price.) Maybe it's time for me to take the same dare as the guy in your class, huh, doi? :wink: Yeah. Right. I probably will get some though. I have an experiment to design. Besides, peppers freeze well, right?
btw, those chartreuse-colored peppers that I didn't know the name of are tabasco peppers. Who knew that Tabasco is both a brand name and a pepper? Besides, government-issue Tabasco sauce is red even though the peppers in a bottle are chartreuse. Eh.