What Makes Food Spicy?

December 11, 2018

When we actually sit and think about it, it is strange that so many people around the world absolutely love eating spicy food. After all, we don’t tend to choose much else in life that causes us physical pain and discomfort; you wouldn’t choose a sofa that contained spiked cushions, or a bed made from concrete, so what is it about spicy food that makes people want to eat it?

We know that chillies do have certain health benefits which makes eating them beneficial; they can help lower blood pressure and contain some antimicrobial effects to fight against bacteria. The fact that extra hot foods help us sweat may explain why those who live in much warner climates have a tendency to eat hotter foods, as advanced sweating will aid in lowering body temperature, but those who live in cold countries still love to test themselves with hotter and hotter foods all the time.

Is there a part of the human psyche that craves a little pain? Is it a psychological reason hidden deep into our subconscious as to why we love to put ourselves through a fiery Vindaloo?

The Hot in Spicy

Maybe understanding what makes food actually feel hot to us can lead us to an answer? It doesn’t matter if you eat a chilli pepper straight from the fridge, at room temperature or cooked into a dish, it still gives us the same ‘burning’ feeling in our mouths. Why?

This happens due to the active ingredient in all spicy foods – capsaicin. Our mouths are full of a special class of vanilloid receptor called VR1 receptors. Capsaicin binds to these receptors, depolarising the sensory neuron which in turn sends a message to our brain that something spicy is present.

This may not seem such strange news, but these VR1 receptors aren’t actually designed to detect capsaicin. Their actual purpose is to function as a thermoreceptor to detect heat and stop us consuming something that is too hot and could cause us any damage. Capsaicin reacts with these transmitters by accident, causing our body to confuse the spicy sensation for a hot temperature. This may be why spicy food gets its tagline of ‘hot’ and what gives spicy food that famous burn that spicy food lovers crave.

What is it about spicy food that you love? If this is making you crave some spicy food, then come on down to Royal Nawaab’s halal restaurant in Manchester and try our wide range of delicious spicy (and non-spicy) dishes.