I’m from China. My roommate also comes from China， but more accurately she comes from Szechuan Province. Have you heard of Szechuan in southwestern China? Maybe not. But you probably know that there is a restaurant in the downtown named “Little Szechuan”. The most common favor of “Little Szechuan” cuisine is hot and spicy. I think Szechuan Cuisine is the most popular cuisine in China. Not only in China, but also around the world, many people enjoy eating hot and spicy food like chili peppers. According to psychologist Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania, about a third of the people around the world eat hot peppers every single day. When I eat spicy food, my mouth feels like it’s on fire. It sounds terrible, but actually I like that feeling. So why people like hot and spicy food?
Let’s talk about spiciness. Spiciness, is not a taste or a flavor, like sweet, salty or sour. Spiciness is pain. According to the science of spiciness of TED-Ed Original, the chemical compounds in spicy foods can activate the type of sensory neurons called polymodal nociceptors which are in mouth and nose. When people eat chili pepper, you have the feeling that it’s on fire is because your brain thinks it’s burning. Eating spicy food just likes torturing ourselves. This makes me more confused that it seems that people enjoying spicy food are masochistically inclined.
I have found many different views about the reasons people like spiciness. According to James Gorman’s article, some professionals think that people like chilies due to their benefits which can help people lower blood pressure, have antimicrobial effects and increase salivation so that people have good appetite. Some experts have different opinions that the pain brought by spiciness can kill other pains. The views should be supported by experiments so we can say that the conclusion can show the causal relation between chilies and other pains. So I find a research which is a file drawer about how chilies can be used to treat pain. Chili peppers’ heat comes from capsaicin which is a compound produced to prevent the peppers from fungal attack. The summary shows that capsaicin helps to reduce pain in part by depleting body’s supply of substance P which is a chemical component of nerve cells which connected to pain signal in the brain. What’s more, it also works by de-sensitizing sensory receptors in the skin.
But all I mentioned about are about the physical benefits but not about personal preference. So I think perhaps, people enjoy chilies because chilies have addictive properties. However, my idea refuses by Dr. Rozin who I have introduced above.
“If humans were becoming addicted to chili peppers, ‘then the animals in Mexico would also like it, because they have that system and they eat hot peppers all the time,’ says Rozin. ‘But they don’t like it which makes me think that there’s something more human about it.’”
What’s more, Dr. Rozin argues that our ability to enjoy experiences that logic says it is an example of a hedonic reversal that it is the word hedonic coming from the Ancient Greek hēdonikos, meaning pleasure. This only happens in human because the feelings of aversion and pleasure overlap largely in human brains. Thus, they both release some chemicals makes people happy. So actually because our most intricate mind and most complex brain, a large part of people enjoy spiciness.
As a result, I think that’s very magic that people enjoy the pain, chilies because we regard this pain as pleasure.
If you are interested in this topic, you can see more in Paul Rozin’s research. This is the link of his reasearch. http://chemse.oxfordjournals.org/content/6/1/23.short