MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Historically, Minnesota foods have centered more around Norwegian or German traditions that have tended to be more bland. There’s even an old Ole and Lena joke that ketchup is a spice in Minnesota.
But, that’s clearly not the case in the kitchen and dining room of Lat 14 in Golden Valley.
“Nothing is ever spicy enough,” Lat 14 owner Ann Ahmed said. “I’m constantly smuggling in chili peppers to places I know won’t be as spicy.”
Ahmed grew up with surrounded by spicy, hot foods. In fact, some of the dishes at Lat 14, which offers food from the 14th Latitude, are recipes directly from Ahmed’s grandmother.
“They have some heat, but we’re still in suburbs,” she joked. “So we’ve tamed it down a bit.”
Spice isn’t actually a taste, like sweet or salty. Rather it’s a sensation, as if something feels like it’s burning, according to Nuala Bobowski, a sensory scientist at St. Catherine University.
“But it’s not burning, it’s just the sensation of spiciness,” Bobowski said.
There’s a chemical in chili peppers called capsaicin, which stimulates the pain receptors in someone’s mouth and tongue.
Researchers aren’t yet sure if a person’s sensitivity to capsaicin is genetic, but Bobowski says it’s clear more exposure to the chemical means a person is less likely to feel that burn.
“It’s heavily influenced by environment,” Bobowski said. “In those cases, environment will trump biology.”
Ahmed says she’s seen a change is Minnesotans’ response to spice since she opened her first restaurant 14 years ago. She believes it’s because people are more aware of their neighbors and their communities and are engaging more when they travel.
“You don’t have to go as far as another country to experience spice, you just have to go as far as the Midtown Global Market or go to the Hmong Market,” Ahmed said. “I believe my guests want it spicier and want it hotter.”