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How Spicy Are You?

A Foodie’s Guide to the Laws of Attraction

 There’s a strange duality around the art of cooking with spices that probably comes down to word association. In an American context – and so, popular media – the word spicy implies food that burns, and while we do rely on spice to bring a little heat to the flavours of a dish, it needn’t result in a runny nose and teary eyes. Spice can be warm, nurturing, caring and kind, but let’s not discount the fact that it’s a sexy ingredient – a little dangerous, a little racy, and unmistakably hot-blooded. We’ve all got a touch of spice in us. Have you thought about which spice you are most like, or on the flipside, which spice you are most attracted to?


If ever there was a spice with an alpha personality, red pepper (sometimes called cayenne) is it. Whether warming a sweet chilli sauce, a slab of dark chocolate, a splash of gochujang, or a pizza, red hot chilli peppers are a staple of the spice world, and always ready to dominate a dish. It’s the lived-in LA rock star, the does-their-own-stunts action movie star… in fact, any kind of star of a hot dish. And the more you let it out to play, the more of an event it promises to be, without fail.


Immediately different and alluring – even though we South Africans are no strangers to the charms of this warm and nutty spice – cumin brings a touch of the exotic to a dish. Its lingering fragrance is at once pungent and intimate, something that arrests your senses as it makes itself known. It’s confident about what it is, not subtle, and puts you in mind of a drily warm day in the desert, perhaps taking a journey across the dunes on camel back, perhaps whiling away your time in a breezy bed chamber on silken sheets. Whatever cumin brings to mind, it’s undeniably attractive.


Whether you call it swag or sass, there’s something very sexy about someone who’s a bit subversive – who doesn’t seem to care (as much) about what people think about them, or what the consequences of their actions and words will be – especially in our modern-day cancel culture. Yes, Paprika might not pack the same punch or provocative slap as, say, jalapeño, but it’s anything but safe. Depending on the variety, it can range from mild to warm, but never holds back on flavour, and always delivers on expectations.



Humour is a funny thing. It’s so subjective. What’s funny to one person might bring another to start surveying the room for an exit. But whatever your sense of humour, there’s something very sexy about someone who tickles people’s funny bones – even if to you, their humour is more head-slapper than knee-slapper. They’re not afraid to put themselves out there knowing that they’re not everybody’s cup of fennel tea. Speaking of, that unmistakably sweet, liquorice taste of fennel (and its seeds) definitely isn’t for everyone, but that has never ousted fennel from the top ten most cookable spices in the world list. It knows what it is, unapologetically so.


Though spices are seldom a subtle choice, not all spices were created equal. Some provide a nurturing warmth, while others provide an unmistakable kick. Ginger succeeds in straddling the line between the two with remarkable ease. Both an attentive lover and a colour-outside-the-lines debauchee, this fiery sweet spice adapts to almost any situation in need of a little heat – and even boasts an array of good-for-you qualities, most noteworthy of which is its effects on blood circulation (if you follow). Yes, there’s very little a sweet jolt of ginger can’t remedy.



There are those you love to catch a fling with, and then there are those you could introduce to your family – without losing that flutter of excitement every time they walk into a room. The latter, of course, is a keeper. Equally comfortable impressing the prospective in-laws as indulging in a little dirty pillow talk, it’s that versatility that’s so irresistible. Endowed with a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove flavours, all spice is often thought to be a blend of the three, but that’s what’s so impressive about this versatile spice, it’s not.


You know when you’ve had a bit of a day and you get back home to find the house filled with the scent of… I don’t know what that is but it’s amazing… then, to be welcomed by the warm embrace of someone who’s been waiting all day to wrap their arms around you, whispering into your ear something to the effect of, “Dinner’s ready. Shall we have a glass of wine with that and head upstairs?” We’ll leave them to it. Cinnamon’s a bit like that: warm, sweet and comforting, but always exciting and full of surprises. It’s familiar, it feels like home, and no matter what mood you’re in, it’s always ready to put you in the most agreeable frame of mind.