Growing up in an Indian household, spiciness in a dish was always a given. If you couldn’t handle the spice, you were missing out. So, I ate it. I ate my Indian curries with a pickled spicy mango in each bite and my pizza doused with red chili flakes for that “necessary” kick to enjoy the food "properly." But after developing IBS or irritable bowel syndrome, I definitely cannot handle the spice anymore. Here are things I have realized on my journey of skipping the sriracha.

1. Spiciness is NOT umami

Cindy Lin

I don't know about you, but for me, spice usually comes with the connotation of giving a dish a bountiful amount of flavor. But, what I have come to realize is that spice is absolutely a flavor—just not the only flavor. Specifically, spice is not the umami taste most of us crave. Umami is a “pleasant savory taste.” If we break it down to its chemical component, which is just monosodium glutamate, it is not capsaicin, which is found in chilis and other spices.

It took looking at their chemical components for me to understand that these two flavors are different flavors and not synonymous. Kind of nerdy, but it helped. With this idea in mind, I began to explore other spices while still on a college-friendly budget. Trader Joe’s has magically created the best umami seasoning you need. Just sprinkle this on your avocados for a delectable avocado toast or even add a few shakes to your pasta for that special something.

2. Not all spices are the same

herb, condiment, pepper, cumin, cinnamon, relish, curry, chili
Hannah Linn

Spice belongs to a big family of individual seasonings. For instance, garam masala, known to give Indian foods an “oomf” that no one knew it needed, is not spicy at all. Add it to any stir-fry you are making, and it will be an explosion of savoriness. You won’t even think to add red pepper or sriracha to make it better. Or, if you are really craving something hot and spicy but know you cannot handle the spice, try using a pickled version of peppers as pickling reduces the capsaicin quantity.

#SpoonTip: Try making your own fresh pickled jalapeños by dicing and adding them to your preferred brine.

3. Spiciness does not "make" a dish

seafood, rice, vegetable, fish
Spoon University

We always hear about having a balanced diet, but what about a balanced meal of different spices fused together to give you a plate of heaven? A dish does not need to have a singular flavor. It can also be a mixture of flavors—a hint of lemon, a hint of something sweet, and maybe just a pinch of spice. 

Ever since I came to Berkeley, I have missed my mother’s cooking. I ordered my dishes as spicy as I could get them. And when I was no longer able to do that due to health reasons, I felt even worse, as I had to give up another aspect of remembering life before college. But I have come to realize that spiciness is not the element that tethers me to my past, and by finding other alternatives, I am making a better life for myself.