If you’re a fan of spicy food, you’ve probably heard of harissa paste.
This North African chili paste is known for its complex flavor profile, combining heat with earthy and nutty notes, as well as hints of garlic and lemon.
But just how hot is harissa paste? Is it something that only the bravest spice-lovers can handle, or can anyone enjoy its fiery kick?
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at harissa paste and explore its heat level, as well as some tips for using it in your cooking.
So buckle up and get ready to spice things up!
How Hot Is Harissa Paste?
Harissa paste is made from a variety of dried chili peppers, which can range from mild to very hot. The most common peppers used for harissa paste are Tunisian Baklouti (similar to a jalapeño) and serrano peppers.
The heat level of harissa paste can vary depending on the brand and recipe, but it generally falls somewhere between medium and hot on the Scoville scale. This means that it can pack a punch, but it’s not so hot that it’s unbearable.
If you’re new to harissa paste or have a low tolerance for spicy foods, it’s best to start with a mild version and work your way up. Many brands offer both mild and hot varieties, so you can choose the one that suits your taste buds.
What Is Harissa Paste?
Harissa paste is a condiment that originated in North Africa, specifically in Tunisia. It is made by blending together a variety of ingredients, including dried chili peppers, garlic, spices, and olive oil. The specific recipe for harissa paste can vary depending on the region and the cook, but it typically includes Tunisian Baklouti peppers and serrano peppers.
The resulting paste is a complex blend of flavors that is both spicy and aromatic. Harissa paste can range in heat level from mild to very hot, depending on the type and amount of chili peppers used. It is commonly used as a condiment, added to stews, soups, or couscous for flavoring.
While you can find harissa paste at specialty grocery stores, making your own at home is simple and allows you to customize the heat level to your liking. Homemade harissa paste can be made with fresh or dried chili peppers and can include additional ingredients such as lemon juice or rose petals for added flavor complexity.
The Ingredients That Make Harissa Paste Hot
The heat in harissa paste comes from the chili peppers used in the recipe. The most common peppers used are Tunisian Baklouti and serrano peppers, which are both known for their heat. However, other types of chili peppers can also be used, such as cayenne, chile de arbol, and ancho chiles.
In addition to the chili peppers, harissa paste also contains other ingredients that contribute to its heat. Spices like cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds add a warm flavor that complements the heat of the peppers. Garlic also adds a pungent kick to the paste.
Finally, some recipes may include additional ingredients to increase the heat level of the paste. For example, some recipes call for the addition of spicy paprika or hot sauce to give the paste an extra kick.
Measuring Heat: Scoville Units And Harissa Paste
The heat of chili peppers, including those used in harissa paste, is measured using the Scoville scale. This scale was invented by Wilbur Lincoln Scoville, an American pharmacist, in 1912. The Scoville scale measures the levels of capsaicin, the chemical compound that gives peppers their spicy flavor. Capsaicin is mostly concentrated in the white placental tissue inside a chili pepper, which is where the seeds are attached.
To measure the levels of capsaicin in a pepper, Scoville soaked them in alcohol overnight to extract the substance. He then added the extract to sweetened water in exact amounts before applying it to his tongue. The more extract required to detect heat on the tongue determines its unit on the scale. The levels of capsaicin within a pepper were therefore measured in ‘Scoville Units’, which honours the Scoville scale.
Harissa paste typically falls between 1,000 and 5,500 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) on the scale, depending on the type and amount of chili pepper used. This puts it in the medium to hot range. However, it’s important to note that different brands and recipes can vary in heat level, so it’s always a good idea to check the label or ask about the spice level before trying a new harissa paste.
If you’re looking for a milder harissa paste, look for one that uses mild chili peppers or has other ingredients added to reduce the heat. Some recipes even use roasted red bell pepper or tomato paste to balance out the spiciness. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of hot and spicy foods, seek out a harissa paste made with hotter chili peppers like bird’s eye chilies.
How To Use Harissa Paste In Your Cooking
Harissa paste is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of ways to add heat and flavor to your dishes. Here are some ideas on how to use harissa paste in your cooking:
1. As a marinade: Harissa paste is an excellent marinade for chicken, shrimp, tofu, and other proteins. Simply coat the protein with the paste and let it marinate for a few hours before cooking.
2. As a dipping sauce: Harissa paste can be used as a dipping sauce for pita bread, veggies, or crackers. If you find the heat too intense, you can mix it with yogurt or tahini to mellow it out.
3. As a glaze: Mix harissa paste with honey to create a delicious glaze for chicken or other meats.
4. As a flavor enhancer for eggs: Mix harissa paste into whisked eggs for an extra burst of flavor in your scrambled eggs.
5. As a veggie seasoning: Toss vegetables with olive oil and powdered harissa seasoning before roasting them in the oven or on the grill.
6. To flavor soups and stews: Add 1-4 tablespoons of harissa paste to your favorite soup or stew to give it a burst of flavor and spice.
7. As a sandwich spread: Use harissa paste as a sandwich condiment to add some heat and flavor to your lunch.
8. Mix it into couscous or quinoa: Mix harissa paste into cooked quinoa or couscous for an easy and flavorful base for your bowl.
9. Add it to avocado toast: Spread a light layer of harissa paste on top of avocado toast for an extra kick of flavor.
10. Add it to tomato sauces: Stir 1-2 tablespoons of harissa paste into marinara sauce or beef ragu for an extra burst of flavor.
11. Add it to potato or pasta salad: Add harissa paste to potato or pasta salad for an extra kick of heat and flavor.
Pairing Harissa Paste With Different Foods
Harissa paste is a versatile ingredient that can be paired with a variety of foods to add some heat and flavor. Here are some delicious ways to use harissa paste in your cooking:
– Marinades: Harissa paste makes a great marinade for meats, seafood, and tofu. Simply mix the paste with some olive oil and coat your protein of choice before grilling or cooking.
– Dipping sauce: Harissa paste can be used as a spicy dipping sauce for bread, veggies, and more. If you find the heat too intense, try mixing it with some yogurt or sour cream to mellow it out.
– Glazes: Mix harissa paste with honey or another sweetener to create a delicious glaze for chicken, pork, or roasted vegetables.
– Eggs: Add a tablespoon of harissa paste to your scrambled eggs for a spicy kick.
– Veggies: Toss roasted or grilled vegetables in harissa paste for a flavorful side dish.
– Soups and stews: Stir in some harissa paste to your favorite soup or stew recipe for an added burst of flavor.
– Sandwiches: Spread some harissa paste on your sandwich for a spicy condiment.
– Grains: Mix harissa paste into couscous or quinoa for a flavorful base to your bowl.
– Tomato sauces: Stir in some harissa paste to your tomato sauce for an extra kick of spice.
– Salads: Add some harissa paste to your potato or pasta salad for a unique twist on a classic dish.
With so many ways to use harissa paste, it’s easy to see why it’s become such a popular ingredient in kitchens around the world. Whether you prefer mild or hot, there’s a harissa paste out there that will suit your taste buds.
Tips For Adjusting The Heat Level Of Harissa Paste
If you find that your harissa paste is too mild or too hot for your liking, there are several ways to adjust the heat level:
1. Add more peppers: If you want to make your harissa paste spicier, you can add more peppers to the recipe. You can use hotter peppers like Thai bird’s eye chili or habanero peppers, or simply add more of the same type of pepper used in the original recipe.
2. Retain the seeds and membranes: The heat of a chili pepper is concentrated in its seeds and membranes. If you want your harissa paste to be hotter, you can retain these parts of the peppers when you chop them up.
3. Use less peppers: On the other hand, if your harissa paste is too hot for your taste, you can use less peppers in the recipe. You can also remove the seeds and membranes from the peppers to reduce their heat.
4. Add sweetness: Sweetness can help balance out the spiciness of harissa paste. You can add a bit of honey, sugar, or dates to your recipe to tone down the heat.
5. Dilute with oil: If your harissa paste is too hot, you can dilute it with some olive oil or another neutral oil. This will help spread out the heat and make it more manageable.
Remember that adjusting the heat level of harissa paste is a matter of personal preference. Experiment with different recipes and ingredients until you find the perfect balance of heat and flavor for your taste buds.