Too Hot? Building Your Spicy Food Tolerance

Not everyone grows up eating spicy food…

For many people, the love of spicy food comes from exposure to new things and a willingness to experiment with the unfamiliar. As with exercise, building a spicy food tolerance involves training your body; in other words, learning to love spicy food takes time and practice. It’s very possible, if your put both your body and mind to it. Let’s break down how to ramp up your tolerance for heat.

Pay attention to the Scoville Scale

Knowledge is power. The Scoville scale is the most widely recognized tool for measuring the heat of chili peppers. If you’re a  newcomer to the world of spicy foods, you should use it as your guide. When you encounter new peppers or new hot sauces, check the Scoville rating to see how hot they are. Use our hot pepper list to see the pepper scale laid out from mildest to hottest (or hottest to mildest if you prefer). With this knowledge, you can move properly up the heat scale to build your tolerance off over time.

Take it easy to start

Start by eating foods that are only mildly hot. As with any situation where you are trying to get your body accustomed to something new, you should move slowly. Start out with milder peppers or hot sauces such as those that measure below 500 on the Scoville scale.

Examples of milder peppers include poblano peppers, cubanelles, and pepperoncini. Mild hot sauces include Frank’s RedHot Cayenne Pepper Sauce and Louisiana Hot Sauce.

Build up over time – take baby steps

As you get accustomed to these mild chilies and sauces, you can try stepping up to slightly hotter options like jalapeño peppers, guajillos, and Fresno peppers. Or in the world of hot sauces, steps up include Tabasco Original Red Sauce or Sriracha sauce. Over time, you will be able to work your way up the Scoville scale to moderately hot sauces like Blair’s Original Death Sauce (30,000 Scoville heat units) or Dave’s Insanity Hot Sauce (51,000 SHU) and beyond.

Don’t approach each step as “one and done”. Live at your new heat level for an extended period, until the spiciness becomes more like a normal everyday flavor than a surprising shock to the palate. It should still be spicy tasting, just not immediately uncomfortable.

When you’ve reached that comfortable zone with your current level, step things up another notch. Take baby steps – as a guideline, choose chilies no more than double their minimum heat for your next tolerance test. For instance, if you’re comfortable at the fresh jalapeño pepper level (2,500 Scoville heat unit minimum), a good next step would be Hungarian wax peppers (5,000 SHU minimum). And from Hungarian wax, a smart next step is the serrano pepper (10,000 minimum SHU). It won’t work with every jump – and it’s highly dependent on the peppers/hot sauces you can source – but it’s a good way to approach as a guideline. Use our hot pepper list to map out your progress.

Make sure that you have cooling ingredients on hand

Dairy products are essential if you are trying to get used to spicy foods, especially those that contain capsaicin. Milk and other dairy products contain a protein called casein that binds with capsaicin and breaks it up so that it can be washed away – essentially lessening the heat. The effect of casein on capsaicin is similar to the effect of detergents on grease. As you build your tolerance, keep some dairy products nearby in case the heat is too much for you to handle.

Consider experimenting with other forms of heat

Consider using products like wasabi or horseradish as your training wheels when entering the world of spice. The heat that you get from wasabi is quite different from the heat of a chili pepper. The chemical that provides wasabi’s heat is called allyl isothiocyanate and it is more readily controlled when compared to capsaicin. It is more volatile and will evaporate quickly, which means that the heat from wasabi will start to diminish once it is exposed to air. It is also much easier to wash away allyl isothiocyanate with water, tea or soda than it is to wash away capsaicin.

Protect yourself

If you decide to start out with fresh peppers rather than hot sauces, you will need to wear protective equipment. Capsaicin can burn more than just your mouth; it can affect various sensitive parts of the body. Gloves are a good idea when you are handling hot peppers. The hotter the pepper, the more crucial they are.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on September 5, 2019 to include new content. It was originally published on May 27, 2017.
  • Sometimes you have to lean in and take the punch. I got walloped last year because I could eat hand fulls of Habanero peppers daily and pull from a freezer full of frozen ghost peppers whenever I wanted. I figured I needed to take that jump and in part felt a little invincible till I ran into the Chocolate Bhutlah. On new years 2 years ago I was gifted 6 Chocolate Bhutlah peppers. I decided I was going to go for it. I ate 3 of the 6 waited the 10 minute burn and proceeded to drink my cherry pepto bismol ice cream shake. This was just the beggining. I had a full hour of all out on the floor “Tap out” pain. It felt like my stomach lining tore open and acid was leaking out into the rest of my body. Since then my tolerance is through the roof. I have reapers being grown for me in Florida and multiple subscriptions for reaper deliveries. You can get there it’s just going to be a painful journey. I personally like the euphoric high I get when I hit the wall.

    You can make the jump from Ghost Pepper to Carolina reaper but there are many peppers on the way to the reaper. I would get to the point where I can eat at least 3 of something below the reaper before you take a shot at the title.

    Carolina Reaper: 2,200,000 SHU
    Chocolate Bhutlah: 2,000,000 SHU
    Trinidad Moruga Scorpion: 2,009,231 SHU
    7 Pot Douglah: 1,853,936 SHU
    7 Pot Primo: 1,469,000 SHU
    Butch T: 1,463,700
    Naga Viper: 1,349,000 SHU (One of my favorite)
    Ghost Pepper (Bhut Jolokia): 1,041,427 SHU
    7 Pot Barracpore: 1,000,000 SHU
    7 Pot Red Giant: 1,000,000 SHU

    Bohica Pepper hut delivers a terrific product and I highly suggest if you can still qualify for a delivery.


    • I’m going the hot sauce route for now bcz it’s hard to get fresh peppers beyond habanero. I’m at 1mil SHU and I’m just now starting to get the queasiness after eating something doused in the hot sauce. Does the queasiness go away with training like how the oral pain goes away? Also do the 24hr later digestive symptoms get better?

  • So going by these recommendations, I should be able to go from the ghost pepper to the Carolina Reaper, once my adjustment to ghost pepper is complete?

    • Don’t think we positioned it like that:) We said the max next jump to take is double the previous to test your tolerance. Obviously, the jump from the ghost to a reaper is significant, so I’d lean on the “baby steps” idea a little more there. Granted – peppers in the super-hot range, there aren’t as many baby step jumps to play around with.

      • Thanks for the reply. I am currently getting adjusted to ghost peppers, and can see a day when I’d want to try something more spicy. I’ll scale back my ambitions, just a bit. 🙂

        • If you want to take measured increasing intervals in the hot realm, you can purchase some 16 million SHU extract to add to sauces. It’s the hottest that capsaicin can get, and it’s flavorless so its versatile (I like putting it in my coffee). It comes in a dropper bottle, you can find it on Start with 2-3 drops in a sauce, ramen, etc… and add a drop each sitting until its too hot for you. Stay on that level and then increase. Be very careful handling it; it’s two times hotter than pepper spray!

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