Why do we like spicy food?

March 1, 2018

Eating spicy food tricks your body into releasing endorphins to relieve the pain. Much like what you experience when you exercise with the so called "runners high," endorphins make you feel good. This is why spicy food is so addictive and manypeople like myself put hot sauce on everything.

Spicy food lovers aren't born with an affinity for hot sauce. Rather, it's acquired over time, as capsaicin and other spicy food molecules deplete a neurotransmitter called substance P, which is responsible for sending pain signals to the brain.

Eating peppers feels physically painful for people who shun spicy food. But Chef Bill Phillips, a spicy foods expert and associate professor at the Culinary Institute of America, says the suffering is all in their heads. “Although you feel like it’s burning [when you eat spicy foods], it’s actually a trick of the mind,” he says, adding that spicy foods do not cause any physical harm to a well-functioning digestive system.

Affection for peppery food often points to particular personality qualities. Building on studies from the '80s that demonstrated a connection between enjoyment of roller coasters and passion for spice, researchers discovered that people with sensation-seeking personalities (i.e. thrill seekers) were more likely to enjoy spicy foods. People who love jumping out of planes, pursuing adventurous travel, and trying extreme sports are more likely to amp up the Scoville count (measurement of pepper pungency) of their meals than people who prefer less risky activities.

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