Some of us thrive on adventure sports. While there are those who like paragliding or scuba diving, it is the chosen few who indulge in the truest adventure sport of them all: eating foods that set their mouth on proverbial fire as other oglers cheer them on. When did we imbibe this torturous taste for spices?
Scientists don’t have an answer to that. They’re not even sure when peppers began to have capsaicin in their composition, the compound accredited with the so-called spice as it triggers your pain receptors. Though we do understand why spicy foods appeal to us.
According to Dr Rohan Kumar, consultant psychiatrist, Regency Hospital, there are several psychological reasons why someone likes spicy foods — the foremost being stress relief.
“The release of endorphins triggered by spicy foods creates a sense of euphoria and relaxation, which may be comforting during periods of stress or anxiety,” he explained.
Dr Shuchin Bajaj, general physician and director of Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals, explained that the heat and pungency of spices activate nerve receptors in the mouth, which can release endorphins and create that sense of excitement or thrill.
He added that humans have an innate preference for variety in their diets. “Spicy foods offer a contrast to the typical flavours, adding novelty and excitement to meals. Those who enjoy culinary experimentation may be drawn to spicier options for the thrill of trying something new,” he explained.
Cultural background and social influences also play a significant role in food preferences. If someone grows up in a culture where spicy foods are common and celebrated, they are more likely to develop a taste for and an appreciation of spicy cuisine.
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The reason for this psychological appeal towards spicy food lies in capsaicin. Capsaicin is what triggers the release of endorphins, natural painkillers, and mood-enhancing chemicals in the brain.
Did you know topical capsaicin creams are used for pain relief, particularly in conditions like arthritis and neuropathic pain? The heat sensation created by capsaicin can distract from underlying pain, explained Dr Bajaj.
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First published on: 10-10-2023 at 10:00 IST