How Hot Do You Want It: The Spice Scale of Thai Food Explained

September 21, 2020
IN Thai Cuisine

If you’ve ever been to a Thai restaurant, you may have stared blankly at the menu while wondering, “How hot are Thai chili peppers, anyway?”

It’s a question that might leave you confused by a numbered scale, stars or a series of chili pepper icons next to certain dishes. Or worse, your server may ask how spicy you would like your food to be when you place the order.

What do you say?

When you want a little warmth but don’t know if you can survive the blistering heat of the spiciest Thai chili peppers, we’ve got you covered. Read on to get a better handle on the heat level of your dishes!

How Hot Are Thai Chili Peppers?

First, it’s important to know that there’s no one single “Thai chili pepper,” and Thai cuisine uses a wide variety of types of peppers that, in turn, may range in spiciness depending on the climate they were grown in and their ripeness at harvest.

However, it may help you to compare the spice of the average chili pepper compared to another pepper you’re likely familiar with, the jalapeno pepper. The typical jalapeno can range from about 2,500 to 8,000 units on the Scoville Scale, which measures the pungency and heat of a spectrum of chili peppers from all over the world.

In turn, the peppers used in Thai cuisine—from green bird chili peppers to spicy prik kaleang peppers—can hit levels of 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville Heat Units. This is why it’s best to choose wisely when you’re looking at a Thai menu!

What Should You Expect From Thai Food Spices?

As mentioned above, there’s great variety in the types of peppers used in Thai food, but there’s also great variety in how Thai peppers are used to prepare a dish.

Peppers might be ground from fresh pods to add spice to a red or green curry dish, or they might be used as garnishes. They may be used in pastes or stuffed and steamed.

In general, if you’re new to a certain dish or restaurant, it’s a good idea to start your spice level at the mildest possible option. This allows you to try your dish with a little bit of heat, usually, the amount that’s comfortable for a majority of Western diners, before you get more adventurous.

Once you’re familiar with the dish’s spiciness, try adding a little more kick with a medium spice level.

For those who truly want to feel the burn, you can ask for a hotter spice level—though this will likely be incredibly spicy to most people’s taste! Beyond this, “Thai hot” is a spice level that approximates what you would find in authentic Thai dishes from the region. It’s a great way to eat local, but you might not be able to feel your tongue afterward!

Order Your Next Meal Wisely

Finding the right level of spiciness with your Thai chili peppers can be an adventure, but it doesn’t have to be a solo venture. If you’re not sure what heat level you can tolerate from the menu, be sure to chat with your server. 

At a friendly restaurant like Thai Ginger, servers are always happy to guide you to the most delicious dish. Come visit one of our locations and put us to the test!

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