By Rice Flour Cookies

2012-01-17 15:51:58 8 Comments

There is an excellent discussion of spicy vs. hot here: Difference between "spicy" and "hot"

However, having read the previous question, I did not see any answer that tells how to say unambiguously that food is hot (temperature) without being misunderstood.

If I say that my food is spicy, a listener will unambiguously understand that I am referring to the sensation associated with eating.

However, I can't think of a good way to say that my food is hot (temperature) without a listener possibly thinking that I mean spicy.

In the referenced question, a poster described how to unambiguously say that food is spicy. How can I unambiguously say that food is hot?


@JJJ 2018-05-25 23:57:56

You could also focus on the method of serving, for example: careful, the plate is hot! It's clear that you mean thermal heat because you don't eat the plate.

@AmE speaker 2018-05-26 02:19:16

what is clear is that you mean the plate is hot, not necessarily that the food is; some restaurants actually keep plates (serving dishes) hot, ready for the food, which may or maynt be so hot.

@JJJ 2018-05-26 02:30:11

@user it will inspire caution, which is ultimately what the question is about. Most plates aren't kept above 70 degrees C (that's non-American for 158 degrees F). Anyway, serving on a plate hotter than that might open one up to a lawsuit as we saw in Liebeck v. McDonalds (that's the American way of complaining about restaurants). Now that I think of it, serving food that hot might inspire a lawsuit as well (similar to the Liebeck suit).

@JJJ 2018-05-25 23:52:39

Be careful, the food is sizzling hot, according to Oxford Learner's Dictionary:

very hot

Example from the same source:

sizzling summer temperatures

Attribution: Definition of sizzling adjective from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

@Edwin Ashworth 2014-07-08 00:27:18

..........'Over 70 degrees Celsius'.

@bobobobo 2013-10-15 01:38:20

How about heated?

Careful, that food is heated.

@JayAr 2012-01-18 18:58:31

I can't think of a way to differentiate clearly using only one word, but you could take advantage of the fact that temperature will change over time and spice content will not and say something like "This food is still hot, be careful."

@MarkDBlackwell 2012-01-18 21:46:01

I would describe the food as, 'hot, but not burning hot'. Or as, 'burning hot,' if it was. Or, if I didn't know, as, 'hot (I don't know if it's burning hot.)'.

@Timothy Jones 2012-01-18 21:25:15

I would say

hot to touch


hot to the touch

@z-boss 2012-01-18 18:07:55

"Don't burn yourself, it's still hot."

@tdc 2012-01-18 16:42:37

Good question! It's hard not to give a very clumsy answer.

I think you have to qualify the statement somehow. For example,

Mind you don't burn yourself, it's hot


It's hot, as in temperature

The only other way is to use a synonym of heat (blazing, scorching, searing), although you could probably argue that those could be used to describe spicy hot food too (although less likely).

@Brad Nesom 2012-01-18 15:24:52

My family says "oven hot".
But that is probably after just using the confusing "hot" first.

@Monica Cellio 2012-01-17 15:58:39

You can describe what's making it hot, e.g. "Be careful, that just came out of the oven".

Or, suggested by @onomatomaniak in a comment, "better let this cool down a little".

@user13141 2012-01-17 16:10:58

+1 A good suggestion. You could also say something like "I better let this cool down a little."

@BoltClock 2012-01-18 12:15:37

I kind of prefer @onomatomaniak's suggestion as it actually describes the temperature. Saying something just came out of the oven wouldn't give me enough of a hint.

@Sterex 2012-01-18 12:24:39

True. When you know that something you say may have ambiguous meaning, it is best to use alternative ways to express it. If "..came out of the oven" isn't good enough, use "Careful, you may burn your tongue." Or what @onomatomaniak said.

@Monica Cellio 2012-01-18 14:02:57

@onomatomaniak, I edited to add your (popular!) suggestion. Thanks.

@user13141 2012-01-18 14:08:17

Sure. Probably influenced by the fact that my oven's broken, so I'm stuck just using the stove.

@Highly Irregular 2012-01-18 03:24:25

Advice on what to do about the food being thermally hot would be hard to misinterpret: "You might need to give this a few minutes to cool".

@Jason Sebring 2012-01-18 02:30:54

  • Scoville (measure of piquance subject to a human panel of testers, relative)
  • Temperature (measure of the mean kinetic energy of a sample, precise)

From that came the very popular "Damn, that's scoville, baby!" or "That is tempish!" in my mind.

In reality this will need contextual clarification for some time in the current cultural idioms.

We should start a movement on this one and you can lead it.

@Jason Sebring 2018-05-26 06:51:05

Downvotes for what? I love SO in general but the English language is fraught with illogical idiosyncratic unfit for justification. I am done with this topic.

@Lunivore 2012-01-17 16:06:35

You could use this idiom:

That food is piping hot.

There's some information about the origin of the phrase here.

@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner 2012-01-17 16:30:02

"Steaming hot" also works to describe food that has a high temperature. But "Flaming hot" usually refers to taste rather than temperature.

@z7sg Ѫ 2012-01-17 16:37:20

@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Unless it's Crepe Suzette. Or Christmas Pudding.

@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner 2012-01-17 16:39:55

@z7sgѪ: True... I have friends who acutally say "thermally hot" and "hot-tasting" to disambiguate "hot", but they're engineers - I know most people don't talk this way. ;)

@Mark Meuer 2012-01-17 21:20:32

How about "scalding" or "scalding hot"?

@Lunivore 2012-01-17 22:21:28

"Scalding hot" has connotations of danger. I guess you could use it if you wanted people to be wary. I like "piping hot" because if I was eating hot food, that's the heat I'd like it to be.

@Chris B. Behrens 2012-01-19 15:40:31

This answer is immediately, obviously correct. Why? Why is it clear that "piping" indicates thermal and not gustatory temperature?

@Lunivore 2012-01-19 16:05:04

@ChrisB.Behrens It comes from the noise that the steam makes as it escapes from the food. That doesn't happen just because it's spicy-hot (even though it might make you feel like it's escaping from you!)

@coleopterist 2012-07-20 20:30:08

Scald also implies liquid which might or might not be helpful in context.

@Neeku 2014-07-08 00:51:30

I can't see why this answer hasn't been chosen as the accepted one. It's a good expression.

@Lunivore 2014-07-08 22:27:08

@Neeku, thanks for the support. While the idiom I provided could be used, it's a bit archaic. Slim's guidance is pragmatic and deserves the tick. Mine is perhaps more entertaining or enlightening, but I am very happy with the upvotes I've been given. Originally when his was marked I think we had very similar vote counts.

@Neeku 2014-07-08 22:30:00

@Lunivore Hmmm... Ok! I'm very happy with the word "pipping", and it's already stuck in my mind now, so I don't even want to think of any other alternative at all! :D

@Lunivore 2014-07-09 17:42:06

@Neeku Piping. Rhymes with wiping. "Pipping" means to pip; either to remove the pips or to beat someone narrowly at a game.

@Neeku 2014-07-09 22:57:35

@Lunivore OMG! This is pure telepathy! So I was trying to use the word this evening while cooking something sizzling on the stove, and I said it's pipping, feeling so happy that now I know this word! But no! I was corrected by my husband, being said that it's piping not pipping. Then I came at my laptop and noticed this comment here! Such a shame! I want it pronounced that way! :D

@tchrist 2012-01-17 22:00:23

This food is very warm⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠.

@ZJR 2012-01-18 01:48:14

or even scalding warm, on need

@Pureferret 2012-01-18 13:50:10

@ZJR Scalding Warm sounds like an oxymoron. Scalding implies a great amount of heat, warm implies a minimal amount.

@Adam Katz 2015-03-07 01:37:35

This is my solution, but a woman I know who is a lifetime resident of Colorado actually misses this distinction; I've heard her use the term "warm" to refer to food that is of medium spiciness.

@fluffy 2012-01-17 21:48:54

What always works in my circle is "this food is high in thermal energy," but that might have limited appeal.

@John Smith 2012-01-18 01:47:55

just give the exact temperature in kelvins then.

@fluffy 2012-01-18 02:44:22

"Tea. Earl Grey. 353 Kelvins." Just doesn't have the right ring to it, you know?

@Agos 2012-01-18 12:24:01

@fluffy I think that Kelvin, being a Lord himself, would have appreciated.

@a CVn 2012-01-18 13:48:29

Reminds me of Tom Paris trying to get some tomato soup from a replicator just after he gets on Voyager (IIRC, may have been one of the alternate timeline episodes too). "Specify hot or chilled." "HOT! Hot, plain tomato soup!" ... "43 varieties and they still can't get plain tomato soup right..."

@mgb 2012-01-19 06:21:25

@fluffy - everyone knows you can get tea from a machine on a scapeship. At least not one made by the sirius cybernetics corp.

@marw 2012-01-17 20:01:52

"How can I unambiguously say that food is hot?" Unambiguously? Well, something like: "the temperature of the dish is too high for the dish to be safely consumed". :) But, how high is "too high" and how safe is "safe"?

I guess you would need to establish a context for a listener, if you cannot count on your content (i.e. tea can be hot in all cultures, but not spicy).

It is sometimes useful to introduce the "vocabulary" you intend to use, so your listeners know that "hot" is related to temperature and "spicy" to taste.

@tchrist 2012-01-17 20:43:31

warm ≠ piquant ≠ spicey

@ron tornambe 2012-01-17 17:41:29

How about: This food is "burning" hot.

I learned how important it is not to translate idioms when I was in Germany. After interviewing a female candidate a colleague asked "What did you think of her?" I replied Sie ist sharf (She is sharp). He then asked me how I could possibly know that she was horny. Blushing, I explained my translation error.

@slim 2012-01-17 17:53:07

English speakers learning Spanish are always told that although "caliente" means "hot", you must always use "cálido" if you are referring to a person being hot, because "caliente" has connotations. Of course, there is a t-shirt that says "My Spanish teacher is MUI CALIENTE"

@mfg 2012-01-17 19:09:16

I have had a niece refer to piquant food as burn-y/burning hot, but was referring to scovilles (and in one instance due to garlic) not thermal heat.

@tchrist 2012-01-17 21:58:25

@slim Surely that must be muy caliente, unless the person’s surname (or maamname) should happen to be ‘Mui’. I do know such people.

@Rice Flour Cookies 2012-01-18 16:06:44

No, "burning hot" could be idiomatically interpreted to mean "spicy" as well. As a matter of fact, I've heard people talking about spicy food "setting their mouths on fire".

@tchrist 2012-01-18 22:11:41

@RiceFlourCookies There actually something Quite Interesting going on there with the human nervous system, in which the mind equates the stimulus of capsaicin to that of heat. And yet nothing is damaged. Here’s la entrada de Wikipedia sobre esto, which persumably you’ll be able to read in English again someday. :)

@mfg 2012-01-17 17:29:36

As crude as it may sound, I like to make very spicy dishes and I frequently hear people use " as in spicy-hot or hot-hot?"

Perhaps this is too anecdotal, but I would find it not uncomfortable or uncomprehensible for someone to specify the heat to which they refer using just the phrase hot-hot, even in the absence of the comparative spicy-hot.

@Jay 2012-01-17 18:48:23

Good point. I've often heard people say "Do you you mean spicy-hot or temperature-hot?" or similar phrases.

@FumbleFingers 2012-01-17 22:17:42

I hear it a lot too. And if someone said "I like my soup hot-hot" I'd take it for granted they were talking about temperature, even without the contrasting "...but not too spicy-hot". For me, the repetition encourages interpreting the word in its primary sense, though I suppose some people might understand it to amplify the figurative meaning (extra spicy).

@Blazemonger 2012-01-17 16:43:27

Any modifier suggesting time would help: "That taco is too hot to eat right now" clearly implies that the heat is a function of temperature, not seasoning.

@leftaroundabout 2012-01-17 22:23:43

Unless the seasoning happens to be volatile... but even alcohol doesn't evaporate that quickly.

@mgkrebbs 2012-01-18 00:07:06

"The food is still too hot" is a common instance of this this type of expression.

@slim 2012-01-17 16:41:00

It's a genuine inadequacy in English vocabulary, with no simple fix:

  • "Hot" is ambiguous
  • "Spicy" is also ambiguous (certain kinds of cake, for example, are spicy but not hot)
  • "Piquant" is not frequently used, so could seem pretentious.

You must therefore keep an eye on context, and add information where necessary.

Most of the time, when talking about food, "hot" refers to temperature, except in the context of mustard, horseradish, and non-Northern-European cuisines. So unless you have explicitly established that those foodstuffs are in-scope, it's pretty safe to assume that "hot" refers to temperature.

@MetaEd 2012-01-17 16:45:56

"Spicy" is also more general in meaning than "piquant".

@slim 2012-01-17 16:54:14

@MetaEd isn't that the essence of my second bullet?

@MetaEd 2012-01-17 17:14:53

Yes. I misread your answer.

@Jay 2012-01-17 18:46:29

Well sure, if someone says, "This turkey is very hot" I would likely assume they meant temperature, but if they said, "These chili peppers are very hot" I would assume they meant spicy. The problem comes when you are trying to say that the turkey is spicy or the chili peppers have high temperature.

@tchrist 2012-01-17 20:40:22

English is bad for this. Spanish is good: caliente ≠ picante ≠ con muchas especias. When you mean piquant, say it. Don’t pussyfoot around.

@leftaroundabout 2012-01-17 22:25:39

@Mark Beadles 2012-01-18 22:05:40

@slim Your last paragraph is untrue in an part of the English-speaking world where spicy-hot food is the norm or at least very common, which is a whole lot of places.

@Rice Flour Cookies 2012-01-20 15:34:18

With 50 votes and 2500 views and no clear answer, I'm going to accept this answer that it is "a genuine inadequacy in the English vocabulary with no simple fix."

@Monica Cellio 2012-01-23 15:19:15

@RiceFlourCookies You didn't like Lunivore's addition of an adjective to the phrase?

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