Eating Spicy Food Doesn’t Mean You’re Tough, says SCIENCE

Eating Spicy Food Doesn’t Mean You’re Tough, says SCIENCE


No, loading up your food with enough chemical
heat to disperse a riot does not make you tough. Says who? Says science. You are not
impressing anybody. The most “alpha” thing to do is to eat your food how you actually
like it, and to let other people do the same. If how you actually like it is loaded up with
chilies, then more power to you, but the most likely explanation for that particular preference
is not that you’re a total bad-ass. The more likely explanation is that your nervous system
has simply become desensitized to these. One of these can taste 10x as hot to somebody
else as it does to you. You’re not having different reactions to the same sensation
– you’re having different sensations. Before we proceed, let’s get our nomenclature
straight. When I say “spicy” in this context, I’m not talking about spices generally. I’m
talking about chilies. Capsicums. Specifically, the chemical inside chilies called capsaicin.
Dr. Nadia Byrnes wrote her doctoral dissertation in food science all about why some people
seem to like the heat more than others. She says it’s important to understand that capsaicin
is not acting on our taste buds. It’s acting on a pain receptor that we have called TRPV1. “TRPV1 is actually — it’s a receptor that
is associated in detecting and regulating our body temperature. And so part of its role
is to tell us when there is something that, from a temperature perspective is hot enough
that it could do damage to our bodies.” And what capsaicin does when you eat it is
it lowers your mouth’s temperature pain threshold by about 10 degrees C, 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
You would normally start to feel some discomfort in your mouth at about 109 degrees F, or 43
degrees C… “…and so by dropping it about 10 degrees,
35 C, which is mouth temperature, is now triggering that and sending a signal to your brain that
this could do damage, this could be bad, this is hot.” That’s why you get temporary relief when you
take a swig of cold water — it’s not that it’s washing away the capsaicin, it’s actually
just lowering the temperature of your mouth. The second you swallow it, your mouth temperature
starts to go back up to normal again and you feel the burn. Scientists think chilies evolved to have this
chemical in them for a very specific purpose — to discourage us mammals from eating them,
while encouraging birds to eat all the chilies they want. Why? Well, because us mammals have
molars, AT LEAST SOME OF US DO, so when we eat chilies, we tend to grind up the seeds,
and by the time they pass through our system, they emerge so damaged that they can’t grow
new chili plants. Birds, on the other hand, swallow the seeds
whole. So birds can help the chili plant reproduce by dispersing its seeds far and wide, intact,
ready to grow a new plant. And birds have TRPV1 receptors that do not respond to capsaicin.
To them, it’s just like eating any other berry. Oooo, therefore birds are such bad-asses,
right? So why would we go out of our way to eat something
that a plant developed for the express purpose of repelling us? Well, lots of the plants that we use as flavorings
are actually trying to keep us away. Garlic is another prime example — the hot, pungent
flavor that you get from freshly chopped garlic is a chemical called allicin, which the garlic
only creates when it’s damaged. It’s a defense mechanism. The same chemical weapons these plants use
on us also happen to kill microorganisms — including many common food-borne pathogens. One theory
as to why super-spicy food became so much more popular in the Global South is that food
spoils way faster in warm climates. Dousing your food in garlic and chili can make it
last longer. And if your food does start to spoil, those super-strong flavors might overwhelm
the gross ones. And that gets at the main reason why I don’t
like a ton of mouth burn — I want to actually taste my food. And when I get a whole lot
of capsaicin in my mouth, I just feel like my whole sensory system becomes overwhelmed,
and I can’t taste what I’m eating. Chilies don’t “burn off” your taste buds — that’s
a myth — but one sensation absolutely can drown out the others. “Because the sensation that capsaicin elicits
is a pain response, there is some selective attention that is paid to that as your brain
is thinking, ‘This is something that could do harm, this is bad, I have to pay attention
to this.'” And one sensation that I absolutely want my
brain to be free to process is the delicious food that I get delivered to my door courtesy
of the sponsor of this video, HelloFresh, America’s #1 meal kit, whom I will now take
one brief moment to thank. Lauren’s been loving HelloFresh. She’s got a few great recipes
that she does, but generally she’s not super-confident in the kitchen, and HelloFresh takes so much
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get a homemade meal on the table even in the midst of our normal weeknight chaos. “What this! A hat!” And HelloFresh also kinda broke us out of
some ruts. They’ve got 20+ seasonal, chef-curated recipes each week — all familiar enough,
but often with one element or one ingredient that we wouldn’t normally use. And it’s flexible.
If we’re gonna be out of town or something we can skip a week, no problem. And HelloFresh
is now from $5.66 per serving. And if you sign up using my offer code, you’ll get eight
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enter my code adamragusea80. That’s all in the description. And we were free to make those tacos as spicy
as we wanted, by the way. It’s interesting how when you eat something spicy, the heat
tends to kinda grow over the course of the meal. “You actually see, over the course of a single
eating experience, people exhibit sensitization, which means that it seems that it’s just getting
more and more and more intense. But over a longer period of time, you see what’s called
chronic desensitization, and you see that people’s threshold sensitivity actually goes
down. So you could essentially train yourself will small doses of capsaicin to lower your
threshold. But you’d have to be really consistent.” So, to my Indian viewers, for example, the
reason that you like way more Kashmiri chili powder in your tandoori chicken than I do
is not because you’re so much tougher than me. I mean, you may indeed be tougher than
me, but that’s beside this particular point. The more likely explanation is that, due to
your country’s climate, your exquisite cuisine evolved to have more spices of all kinds in
it, and because you therefore grew up eating way more capsaicin than I did, you have to
pour on way more chili powder than I do to get that same pleasant, mild burn that we
both enjoy, due to the wonderful and mysterious mingling of pain and pleasure in our brains. And honestly, if you’re a person who simply
grew up in a culinary tradition like those of India, or Southeast Asia or Latin America,
I have no complaint with you. I have a problem with dudes of a heritage a little closer to
mine who right now are probably thinking, “Yes, exactly, this is why my eating chilies
is a reflection of my bad-assery. I have trained my system. It’s an adaptation to stress, just
like weight-training.” Indeed, 45 pounds does feel way heavier to
me than it does to, say, 4x Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler, and that is because he has subjected
his muscles to way more stress, thereby forcing them to adapt and get stronger. And yes, that
does make Jay more of a bad-ass than me. But here’s the thing, dude — making your muscles
stronger actually has a point. You can do something with that strength. You can defeat
me in battle, or maybe help me move my couch. But physiologically adapting yourself to capsaicin
enables you to do what, exactly? Eat lots of chilies? Cool trick, bro. No, I figure that in this respect, chronic
capsaicin desensitization is more akin to how we adapt to light. Imagine if you went
and stood on my front porch, while I went into my bathroom, drew the shades and turned
off all the lights. Then we both stepped out onto my front lawn. You’d be perfectly comfortable
in the sunlight, while I would be squinting. Are you more of a bad-ass than me at that
moment? No. You’re just a person with constricted pupils, and I’m a person with dilated pupils.
Our eyes are, for the moment, calibrated differently. We’re not having different reactions to the
same experience — we’re having different experiences. That said, capsaicin desensitization does
not fully explain why some people seem to eat way more of it than their peers do. “Across all cultures, you kind of anecdotally
hear that there’s always a few people who are pushing it, and are always going higher,
and always going higher, and always going higher.” Trying to understand that phenomenon was the
main focus of Dr. Byrnes dissertation research at Penn State. She brought in about a hundred
people living in my hometown of State College, Pennsylvania, and she had them taste all kinds
of things, including precisely measured capsaicin doses. The participants ranked how intense
the samples tasted to them, and then they filled out some questionnaires, about what
kinds of foods they like, and also about their personality more broadly. Then she went looking for correlations between
certain personality types and a propensity to eat super-spicy food. What she found was
very different correlations between men vs. women. Women who said they really liked the heat
were more likely to exhibit a broader personality trait known as “sensation seeking,” which
is defined as “a need for novel and intense stimulation.” Whereas the men who said they liked the heat
were more likely to exhibit a trait called “sensitivity to reward.” “Sensitivity to reward is a portion of a personality
questionnaire that is really built to measure extrinsic rewards, so it’s kind of learned
rewards — things like money, power, status, where sensation seeing is a measure that really
taps into a more intrinsic reward, so things that there could be a more of a biological,
like, hard-wiring.” So the women that Dr. Brynes studied were
more likely to get a hit of dopamine, or some other good feeling directly in response to
the burn. Whereas the men that she studied seemed to be getting a good feeling in response
to how bad-ass they imagined that eating capsaicin made them look in the eyes of other people. “It’s really possible that that’s all just
a learned association, and that men are kind of torturing themselves in eating these spicy
foods, not because they’re actually enjoying it, but because they enjoy that social status
that’s coming with it.” And that, boys, is what I call weak sauce. Don’t be that guy. You know who you want to
be like? You want to be like the “The Wolf.” Quinton Tarantino’s cinematic universe is
teaming with testosterone but the most alpha of all Tarantino characters is Winston Wolfe
from “Pulp Fiction,” and what does The Wolf say when somebody asks him how he wants his
coffee? “Oh, um, how do you take it?” “Lots of cream, lots of sugar.” That line is in the movie for a reason. It’s
there to establish that The Wolf doesn’t need to impress the other boys by ordering his
coffee black. He’s confident enough in his manhood that he can order his food and drink
however they hell he damn-well actually likes it. “Mmm!” That’s the guy that I want to be, and that
is my closing argument to you. Quick epilogue, though. What’s Dr. Byrnes
been doing since she got her PhD? Well she’s now the Principal Sensory Scientist at Ocean
Spray Cranberries, and guess what? “Ocean Spray has a product in Mexico called
Enchilados.” Yep, spicy dried cranberries. Hey, take your
pleasure however you find it. “Any way you want it, that’s the way you need
it, any way you want it…”