There is an excellent discussion of spicy vs. hot at this question.

However, having read it, 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?

  • 22
    @Em1, there are lots of people who don't reserve "hot" for that usage, though. Jan 17, 2012 at 15:59
  • Off topic: do other languages use the same word for this, too? If not (attempted on topic) and you and your listener both know that other language, use it. "Watch out --- caliente!"
    – GEdgar
    Jan 17, 2012 at 16:01
  • 3
    I find myself using extra words, like "This is really hot ... I mean in temperature, not spicy." Which of course is very awkward. I'll be interested to see if someone comes up with a concise way to say it.
    – Jay
    Jan 17, 2012 at 16:11
  • 1
    Having either lots of different spices, or a high amount of one spice, has nothing in particular to do with that food item happens to piquant. Not all spices burn; most, in fact, do not.
    – tchrist
    Jan 17, 2012 at 20:38
  • 1
    "The food is high in average thermal energy"
    – jkd
    Dec 12, 2016 at 20:53

21 Answers 21


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.

  • 1
    "Spicy" is also more general in meaning than "piquant".
    – MetaEd
    Jan 17, 2012 at 16:45
  • 5
    @MetaEd isn't that the essence of my second bullet?
    – slim
    Jan 17, 2012 at 16:54
  • 1
    Yes. I misread your answer.
    – MetaEd
    Jan 17, 2012 at 17:14
  • 3
    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.
    – Jay
    Jan 17, 2012 at 18:46
  • 4
    English is bad for this. Spanish is good: caliente ≠ picante ≠ con muchas especias. When you mean piquant, say it. Don’t pussyfoot around.
    – tchrist
    Jan 17, 2012 at 20:40

You could use this idiom:

That food is piping hot.

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

  • 29
    "Steaming hot" also works to describe food that has a high temperature. But "Flaming hot" usually refers to taste rather than temperature. Jan 17, 2012 at 16:30
  • 1
    @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Unless it's Crepe Suzette. Or Christmas Pudding.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Jan 17, 2012 at 16:37
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    @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. ;) Jan 17, 2012 at 16:39
  • 3
    How about "scalding" or "scalding hot"?
    – Mark Meuer
    Jan 17, 2012 at 21:20
  • 2
    @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!)
    – Lunivore
    Jan 19, 2012 at 16:05

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".

  • 16
    +1 A good suggestion. You could also say something like "I better let this cool down a little."
    – user13141
    Jan 17, 2012 at 16:10
  • 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.
    – BoltClock
    Jan 18, 2012 at 12:15
  • 1
    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.
    – Sterex
    Jan 18, 2012 at 12:24
  • @onomatomaniak, I edited to add your (popular!) suggestion. Thanks. Jan 18, 2012 at 14:02
  • Sure. Probably influenced by the fact that my oven's broken, so I'm stuck just using the stove.
    – user13141
    Jan 18, 2012 at 14:08

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.

  • Unless the seasoning happens to be volatile... but even alcohol doesn't evaporate that quickly. Jan 17, 2012 at 22:23
  • 16
    "The food is still too hot" is a common instance of this this type of expression.
    – mgkrebbs
    Jan 18, 2012 at 0:07

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

  • 10
    Good point. I've often heard people say "Do you you mean spicy-hot or temperature-hot?" or similar phrases.
    – Jay
    Jan 17, 2012 at 18:48
  • 1
    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). Jan 17, 2012 at 22:17

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

  • 14
    just give the exact temperature in kelvins then.
    – John Smith
    Jan 18, 2012 at 1:47
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    "Tea. Earl Grey. 353 Kelvins." Just doesn't have the right ring to it, you know?
    – fluffy
    Jan 18, 2012 at 2:44
  • 3
    @fluffy I think that Kelvin, being a Lord himself, would have appreciated.
    – Agos
    Jan 18, 2012 at 12:24
  • 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..."
    – user
    Jan 18, 2012 at 13:48
  • 2
    @fluffy - everyone knows you can get tea from a machine on a scapeship. At least not one made by the sirius cybernetics corp.
    – mgb
    Jan 19, 2012 at 6:21

This food is very warm⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠.

  • 2
    or even scalding warm, on need
    – ZJR
    Jan 18, 2012 at 1:48
  • 11
    @ZJR Scalding Warm sounds like an oxymoron. Scalding implies a great amount of heat, warm implies a minimal amount. Jan 18, 2012 at 13:50
  • 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.
    – Adam Katz
    Mar 7, 2015 at 1:37

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


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.

  • 3
    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"
    – slim
    Jan 17, 2012 at 17:53
  • 3
    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.
    – mfg
    Jan 17, 2012 at 19:09
  • @slim Surely that must be muy caliente, unless the person’s surname (or maamname) should happen to be ‘Mui’. I do know such people.
    – tchrist
    Jan 17, 2012 at 21:58
  • 3
    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". Jan 18, 2012 at 16:06
  • @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. :)
    – tchrist
    Jan 18, 2012 at 22:11

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


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".


I would say

hot to touch


hot to the touch


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).


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."


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


"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.

  • 1
    warm ≠ piquant ≠ spicey
    – tchrist
    Jan 17, 2012 at 20:43

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.)'.

  • 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.

  • 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. May 26, 2018 at 6:51

How about heated?

Careful, that food is heated.


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.

  • 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. May 26, 2018 at 2:19
  • @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
    May 26, 2018 at 2:30

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

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