Hyper-regional cuisine is having a moment in the food world right now, and slowly making its way into the drinks space as well. Exceptional spicy flavors celebrate the terroir of their homelands, and the history and culture of the people who have lived there. Just a few examples include:
- The Coastal Carolinas, USA – flavors from the Gullah Geechee community are getting more awareness and interest, influenced from their West African heritage and mixed with the indigenous foods of the US.
- Jalisco, MX – Birria, a festive goat (or beef) based stew served in tacos and dipped in consommé is HOT right now.
- Jamaica – the Jamaican flavors of jerk spices, scotch bonnet, smoke, and goat (a trending ingredient for its flavor and sustainability) are bringing more appreciation for the culinary traditions of the island.
The More You Know: Spicy Food and Drink Pairing Tips
Spicy food and drink pairing can often be tricky, as many don’t know how alcohol plays off of spicy flavors. Let’s explore this further.
How does spicy food react with alcohol?
Chili is not one-dimensional; yes, it brings heat, but it’s also packed with flavor and a delicious sweetness. It brightens a dish. The fire comes from the chemical called capsaicin in chilis.
The little obstacle to jump over when pairing drinks with spicy food is the fact that capsaicin is soluble in alcohol and fat. Both turn on the fire in your palate. The higher the ABV (alcohol by volume), the more astringent and intensely spicy food will taste. You’ll feel the burn way more (maybe even a few beads of sweat) and taste the flavor less.
How to choose the right drinks
If the pandemic got you hooked on YouTube’s famed show Hot Ones, where host Sean Evans distracts thrill-seeking celebrities amidst eating hot wings, then you’ve seen a thing or two about coping while in a Scovilles haze. A massive glass of water just won’t cut the mustard – it’s more likely going to spread the fire. So, what should you be drinking?
You need to choose drinks that tame the Scovilles. Try to balance or match their weights, as well as contrasting their flavors. Here’s are a few techniques to tone down the sting:
Match the mouthfeel with fizz
When we say weight, we mean the mouthfeel or texture of a sip. First, let’s unpack how we translate this to bubbles. Adding fizz (or carbonation) is a great trick to help douse a fire on the palate. A swig of beer will quench a chili-induced thirst, so putting the flames out with a beer or Champagne cocktail is a quick fix. Cocktails that include club soda or fizz, like a Pornstar Martini, John Collins or Passionfruit Gin are fantastic too.
Let’s look little closer at the balancing of the weight. A gentle fruity fizz from a Champagne or sparkling wine cocktail will work fabulously with mild to medium spice. Try a Peach Bellini, Kir Royale or Strawberry Champagne fizz with spicy seafood for a delicious match.
A creamy beer cocktail like the Michelada is a bit coarser on the bubble front and mouth texture – perfectly matching a fiery bold Jalisco stew, chili-laden tacos or fiery fajitas.
Get fruity with it
When the spice escalates, we need to change tactics as fizz alone won’t do the trick. The fire onslaught from muddling high-proof spirits with higher fat content spicy foods needs be muted by a cocktail with sugary fruit mixers. Spice-forward rich Indian curries find their heat elevated by the oils and cream (remember, the heat is fat-soluble). Dishes like these need a powerful fruity cocktail to offer a welcome contrast to the colorful heat. A safe harbor would be the ocean blue Jack Frost, filled with fruity flavors of pineapple and coconut, or go big with a sweet Miami Vice or Jungle Bird, which contains rum, a splash of Campari, pineapple and lime juice. The latter is Malaysia’s national cocktail; this tropical sweet sip is used to holding its own in a sea of spicy Asian cuisine. Try it with a Massaman curry.
Up the zest
Similarly, the high acidity of bright and punchy citrus cocktails offer relief in the same way as sugar, so try a Sidecar a Limoncello Martini or a Lemon Drop to tame the flame. Botanical gin-based cocktails like Martini or Vesper Martini have lively aromatics that clean the palate in between spicy bites. Sake works in this way too.
Don’t add any more smoke
Avoid cocktails with heavily oaked or smoked spirits like some bourbons and whiskeys. They tend to dominate or linger on the palette.
There you have it – the complete guide to matching cocktails with spicy food! Keep these top tips in your pocket so you always look like a pro.
About The Mixer
The Mixer is a new all-in-one drinkspiration destination, powered by Campari Group, to discover new ways to create sparkling and memorable moments with your loved ones through quality cocktail making at home. From delicious recipes with expert tips to trendy new serves and ideas, The Mixer encourages connectivity and good times, whether you’re new to hosting or a cocktail pro.
About The Writer: Private chef to celebrities, Sonja Edridge has been food stylist for most supermarket multiples, working with top food photographers like David Loftus and Jonathan Lovekin . She has also edited books for food authors like Diana Henry and converted Delia Smith’s back catalogue onto the web—which was one of the first food websites of its kind in the UK. She works as a food and drinks editor on The Mixer.