Have you ever thought about how crazy it is that spicy foods have become so popular? First, we have taste buds that detect sweet, salty, sour, and bitter foods. We don’t have spicy taste buds. Know that spicy flavor is the pain receptors in the mouth. Those are usually triggered hot enough to cause damage to the mouth. There are many crazy people out there who enjoy eating this stuff despite sweating, nose running, and digestive issues.
Biologically, we’re not supposed to eat spicy food. Many scientists think pepper plants evolved to be spicy to stop mammals from eating them. Usually, fruit plants want to get eaten, so their seeds are carried far away and deposited with their fertilizer supply. But mammals have strong stomach acids that can digest pepper seeds.
On the other hand, birds have weaker stomach acids, and pepper seeds can safely pass through their digestive tract. So peppers incorporated capsaicin. The chemical simulates burning pain in mammals yet does not affect birds. This way, the pepper is only eaten by the animals it wants to eat it.
Why is spicy food so addictive?
Looking at Google Trends, we can see that spicy food’s popularity rivals sweet food’s popularity. Capsaicin, a chemical meant to stop us from eating something, is rivaling in popularity with sugar. So what happened? Normally, when plants don’t want to be eaten by certain animals, they make themselves taste disgusting.
The human body is covered in receptors that respond to pain and heat. But the active chemical in spicy foods, capsaicin, can fool these receptors into triggering. Different peppers have different concentrations of capsaicin and can be ranked by their heat units on the Scoville scale.
A study on mice found that a lethal dose of capsaicin is about 100 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. A person weighing 60 kilograms or 130 pounds equals 6 grams of capsaicin.
Here are some factors that contribute to the appeal and enjoyment of spicy food:
Release of endorphins: When we consume spicy food, the chemical compound called capsaicin, found in chili peppers, stimulates receptors in our mouth and tongue, triggering a pain response. Our body releases endorphins, natural painkillers, and mood enhancers in response to this perceived pain. The release of endorphins can create a pleasurable sensation and a mild “high,” leading to a sense of enjoyment.
Taste bud stimulation: Spicy foods can provide a unique sensory experience. Capsaicin activates receptors on our taste buds, particularly those sensitive to heat and pain. This stimulation can enhance the flavors of other ingredients in a dish and create a sensation of heat, intensity, and complexity. The combination of flavors and the tingling sensation can be pleasurable and addictive because it keeps us seeking that unique taste experience.
Cultural and psychological factors: Spicy food is deeply rooted in the culinary traditions of many cultures worldwide. Growing up in a culture that values and enjoys spicy food can influence one’s preference for and tolerance of spiciness. Moreover, the psychological association between the pleasurable sensation elicited by spicy food and the subsequent release of endorphins can create a positive feedback loop, leading people to seek out and enjoy spicy foods more frequently.
Variety and novelty: Spicy food can provide a change from milder flavors, adding excitement and variety to our taste experiences. The sensation of spiciness can be seen as a form of culinary adventure, stimulating our senses and providing a unique and memorable dining experience. This novelty factor can contribute to the enjoyment and desire for spicy foods.
Brain reaction to spicy food
Our brains perceive something bad tasting as something we shouldn’t eat because the food can be rotten or dangerous to health. So we learn to stay away from them. But peppers didn’t evolve to taste bad. Instead, they evolved to cause pain to animals they didn’t want to eat. But a loophole in how our brains work makes spicy food enjoyable. When bodies experience pain, the brain goes into danger mode. It thinks there’s some hazard that we need to survive.
- The brain starts by releasing endorphins to help relieve the pain. Then after a while, it gives a dose of dopamine. It is a hormone that causes feeling good. So brain releases dopamine as a reward for surviving.
Spicy food tricks the brain into releasing many feel-good hormones to combat the pain. Then the brain creates an association between the excellent feeling and spicy food, which makes us crave the food that causes pain. The weird thing is that spicy food is both enjoyable and painful. Also, this is the ultimate key to spicy food, success, and popularity.
Cultural challenge and habit
The fact that spicy food causes pain means that eating spicy food is a strength. So a person can be seen as strong if they can eat spicy food. It can create social pressure to like spicy food because the opposite is true. It’s possible that someone could be seen as weak for not enjoying this food. So spicy is a cultural juggernaut.
It’s like this in many places where it’s socially acceptable to like spicy food but socially alienating not to enjoy it. It’s socially more advantageous to like spicy food. Spicy food is addictive once you start getting used to it. It’s a one-way street toward liking it. More people are joining the population of people who like eating spicy food, while it’s almost unheard of for someone to stop liking it.
Since eating spicy food is a strength for people who want to impress, others will eat spicy foods. This is why spicy food challenges exist. It’s impressive when someone can eat something that would melt a normal person’s mouth, creating a positive view about spicy foods or at least a fascination with them. Maybe this is why people like watching other people eat spicy food.
Look at Google Trends, and we can see that the overall popularity of spicy food has grown steadily. But if we look at only the searches on YouTube, spicy food dwarfs all other flavors. But this isn’t surprising. Spicy food challenges are extremely popular to watch. Mazzoni recently released a spicy noodle video with 40 million views, and the show ‘Hot Ones’ is doing great. It’s an interview show themed around eating spicy chicken wings, and each new episode gets a couple of million views.
We like watching other people eat spicy food because it can be funny, impressive, or a mixture. It’s something that even people who don’t like eating spicy food can enjoy watching because you’re not eating the food yourself. You’re watching other people eat spicy food. By the look of the graph, the popularity of spicy food is growing exponentially on YouTube, with no sign of slowing down. Spicy food will become more popular than it’s ever been this upcoming year.
Every spicy food challenge is extra exposure and creates a higher chance that a person will want to try this. It has led to popularity at every step, from a strange way of being addictive to causing social pressure by associating it with the strength to the point where super-hot peppers are treated like celebrities.
Hot sauce companies like to create sauces that use some of the hottest peppers in the world. But this isn’t for making the sauce hot. If hot sauce companies want it, they can make a sauce by using normal peppers for flavor and throwing pure capsaicin into the mix to make it as hot as they want. But the fact is that companies will go out of their way to make sources of peppers like the Carolina Reaper, the Ghost, Pepper Dragon’s Breath, and Pepper X. This shows how important it can be to have a pepper celebrity in your sauce.
Sometimes hot sauce companies will even try to get exclusive deals with pepper growers. It’s free advertising: The huge marketing advantage of being the only sauce made from this famous pepper. If a person looks up a famous hot pepper and finds a hot sauce made from that pepper, they might get curious enough to buy the hot sauce. It’s like having a celebrity in a movie.
Pepper Farm’s competitor developed Dragon’s Breath Peppers in twenty seventeen. It scores 2.4 million units on the Scoville scale, surpassing the Carolina Reaper. The Carolina Reaper is still commonly known as the hottest pepper globally.
“Capsaicin.” ChemSpider, Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, UK.
“Capsaicin, Experimental Properties.” PubChem, US National Library of Medicine.
Govindarajan, V. S., Sathyanarayana, M. N. “Capsicum—production, technology, chemistry, and quality. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.
What Made Chili Peppers So Spicy? By Talk of the Nation.
New Mexico State University – College of Agriculture and Home Economics. “Chile Information – Frequently Asked Questions.”
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