Having apparently built up quite a high tolerance to chillies, I'm often amazed when friends try what I've cooked and immediately turn a bright shade of red!
So why do some people have such a high tolerance, while others can't handle even a mild curry?
What makes food spicy?
It's all down to capsaicin – the active ingredient in spicy food, and it's a natural irritant that was evolved by chillies to stop animals from eating them. Unfortunately, we eat more chillies than ever! (Although you could say, this has made chillies much more successful…)
Your tongue has thousands of pain receptors – which capsaicin just so happens to bind excellently with, resulting in a burning sensation that's identical to when you touch something that's really hot.
So why do people like chillies?
When your pain receptors are triggered, there's a bonus effect – your body starts to release endorphins. Endorphins are the “pleasure” chemical, causing pleasurable feelings and numbing the sensation of pain.
Of course, there's always the “challenge” of eating more chillies than your friends – we all know that guy who brags about how much spice he can take.
Why do we “get used to” spicy food?
It's no secret that if you eat spicy food regularly, after a while your tolerance to the pain increases, and you eat more and more chilli. That's because repeatedly stimulating the receptors on your tongue causes them to reduce their sensitivity, allowing you to handle the pain.
Thanks, but no thanks, receptors! This is how people build up huge tolerances and can tackle even the spiciest of dishes without breaking a sweat, particularly if you come from a background where spice is eaten regularly.
Now we know why people love spicy food, check out this crazy video of “Man vs Food” star Adam Richman eating the world's hottest curry!