Why People Either Love - Or Hate Chillies

Chillies are a very popular spice. They have gotten a lot of attention in the food world over the last few years. Why are people so obsessed with these peppers?

When it comes to flavour, people talk almost exclusively about the actual taste and smell of a food.

There is also a third quality to flavour. The physical sensations of hotness and pain also influence how we perceive taste. Chillies are a perfect example of this flavour category.

There isn't really a name for the flavour that we describe with chillies. The only consensus among scientists at the moment is that the physical signs of this third quality of taste are manifestations of the sense of touch.

Although mostly overlooked, these qualities are essential to our experience of taste.

More than pain

The burning that we experience when eating chillies is mostly a sensation, not a flavour or smell. For a long time we didn't understand why we experienced this sensation. It was only in 1997 we discovered that the brain has receptors for capsaicin, the substance responsible for the hot sensation we feel when eating chillies. The same receptor is also active at hot temperatures. In the brain, when chili is consumed, the tongue feels burned.

Lots of Differences

Depending on the variety, chillies can feel very different in the mouth. They come in many degrees of heat and spiciness. The Scoville scale used for this purpose was developed in 1912 by Wilbur Scoville. He said that one can measure the spiciness of food by diluting an extract until the testers no longer perceive the spice.

Pepper, for example, has a score of ten scovils. Some chillies, however, have well over 100,000 scoville points.

Chilis can also be divided into the following categories:

  1. Duration of spiciness
  2. Place where the spiciness occurs (lips, tongue tip, palate ...)
  3. Type of spiciness (sharp and local or slow to build and spreading ...)

What helps diffuse spiciness?

What do you do if you have bit off more than you can chew? Cold milk is often recommended. The cooling helps against the spiciness, the liquid cools the burning sensation and the fat dissolves the capsaicin from the receptors in your mouth.

Experts assume that the milk only helps because it distracts us from the burning. Once you taste the spiciness, the capsaicin has penetrated deep into your tissues, so milk really doesn't do much to help.

Painful pleasure!

Lots of people love the burning sensation we get from chillies. We are the only beings on the planet who enjoy eating them! Admittedly, birds love the colorful pods, but do not have capsaicin receptors, so they do not experience chillies the way we do.

Other people completely avoid spiciness! It's hard to say why some people love spice while others hate it. Here are a few ideas:

  • Chili lovers are less sensitive to spice
  • The genes are to blame.
  • Some people have more sensitive capsaicin receptors than others.

Are chili lovers masochists?

Whatever the explanation is, one thing is for sure: chili-loving people enjoy the accompanying pain. As early as 1980, thrill-seekers who ate chillies for fun were seen as benign masochists, similar to people who enjoy roller coaster rides or horror films. Otherwise, pain is always a warning of approaching damage, to warn our body to react.

False alarm

The burning sensation chilis have triggers the same reactions in the brain that would be triggered if you eat something that is too hot. The burning sensation is a false alarm, as the peppers themselves are not heated. There is no real danger in this threat but it is interesting.

Scientists discovered that the more adventurous a person was, the more likely they were to like chillies.

By the way:

Some people say that chillies have no flavour. Others say that the spiciness of the chillies influences other flavours. Fact: if your tastebuds are overwhelmed with capsaicin, it is hard to perceive other flavours.

Check out our large selection of chili products! There is sure to be something for everyone.