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

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
of the stress out of cooking for her. Clear instructions, pre-measured ingredients, there’s
no going to the store and being worried you’re buying the wrong thing. And it allows us to
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
meals free — that’s $80 off your first month of HelloFresh. Just go to HelloFresh.com and
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…”

100 thoughts on “Eating Spicy Food Doesn’t Mean You’re Tough, says SCIENCE

  1. Q: Are you just butt-hurt that someone made fun of you for ordering your curry mild?
    A: Chillax. Though I do sincerely believe the argument I made in this video, I intend that argument to primarily serve as an amusing framework for us all to learn some interesting science about why chilies make us feel the way they do. I consider these Monday (or, in this case, Tuesday, due to administrative delay) videos to be journalism, and I think one defining aspect of journalism as a form of communication is that its primary function is to inform, rather than to persuade. You can write an opinion piece where you're trying to persuade people to see things the way you do, but that mission should be secondary to the primary goal of giving them enough information to come to their own conclusions. I think I gave you plenty of information in this video to come to an opposing viewpoint. Eat what you like to eat, and be more informed in the act.

    Q: Why are you using plastic products a week after you told us that food plastics are messing with our hormones? https://youtu.be/BIvHrC_mS_M
    A: We make choices in life in which we have to balance many competing interests. Based on what I learned making that video, I've chosen to replace most of my reusable food containers with glass, and to stop microwaving my plastics, but I don't think it's feasible to banish all food plastics from my diet, and even if it was, there are other interests to consider. This is purely a guess, but I would guess the net effect of food plastics has been to make our food supply safer, even when taking endocrine disruption into account. Also, I love canned tomatoes, and would probably eat them even if I knew they would literally kill me. I gave you some information; make your own choices with that info, and I'll make mine.

    Q: But seriously, why did you turn a science video into an argument about toxic masculinity?
    A: You may laugh, but I suddenly find myself in the position of being a 37-year-old man with a large audience of much younger men. I am seriously worried about the concepts of masculinity that I see metastasizing among young men these days (especially in certain online communities), and I feel an obligation to offer a model of masculinity that I believe is better for the world. I know that when I was a teenager, the male role models society offered to me were either the same-old unenlightened meatheads or painfully ineffectual and unsexy '90s men. I had no idea how to navigate between those two extremes until I found two male role models who taught me, in large measure, how to be the man I try to be today: Henry Rollins and Anthony Bourdain. It's possible to be an enlightened bad-ass — to care about other people's feelings, to be smart, to be nurturing, and also to be resilient, assertive and, frankly, fuckable. I learned that from Hank and Tony, and if I can pass that wisdom to others, I will. The kitchen is a place where I think a lot of these issues come up.

  2. I do wonder though, in many mammalian species, the male counterparts tend to seek out status amongst other males, this implies a biological/genetic factor which contributes to why many males in the human species tend to due the same. So when you say "don't be that guy" I agree to a point "don't get a superiority complex" but if a bro wants to mess around and be the supreme alpha chili head amongst his Bros then more power to him.

    Also I would have to read a study on this but I wonder if the seeking of dominance amongst other males in various mammalian species has a direct effect on the dopamine levels in their respective brain chemistry. If that's true, then seeking out that thrill in spice (amongst males) in the human species could just be an indirect path to a dopamine spike.

  3. When I lived Jalapa, Vera Cruz, I saw mother and grandma rubbing the chile juice on a baby girls gums. She was teething. I thought that was so cruel, like "We'll give you something to cry about!" After I got to know these women, they were FAR from cruel! This capsicum does indeed deaden pain.
    In fact the doctor (American), gave me like roll-on for chronic pain in my foot. It works!
    So this comment section is only loaded with cute teens trying to be cute (funny???, witty?????), but I would like to know if there are real health benefits, the Mexicans say there is! All peppers have like 10 times more vitamin C than an orange. Adam never asked this! He is either being inundated with the same memes over and over, or lectured on his "male toxicity". It is impossible to have pertainant discussion or even ask a serious question. Adam needs to stop appealing to children and teens. Even a good joke is not funny after the hundredth time. He needs to talk over their heads so they get bored and unsubscribe, which sure as hell shouldn't be difficult to do. "vinegar leg on left" Hilarious!

  4. I like that I'm a little — but just a little — desensitized for 3 main reasons:
    1) I can add more complex, fruity chilies to my food rather than bell peppers, which while delicious, can overwhelm some dishes.
    2) I kind of enjoy challenging myself sometimes — mind over body, or maybe just masochism. Plus, there's a little endorphin rush afterward.
    3) The schadenfreude of ordering the special hot salsa at the Mexican restaurant and eating it nonplussed while watching everyone who wants to try it react with wide eyes and downing two glasses of their drink in 5 minutes. I mean, I told them exactly what it was…

  5. I strongly disagree with your point that there's no reason to get a tolerance to spicy food. I am a "chili head" as it's been put, but I'm also a foodie. Way more of a foodie than a chili head and I love well made hot sauces that have flavors I can enjoy that some people can't

  6. Props to Adam Ragusea for making a stand against toxic masculinity.

    Insecure men around the world are looking up to you.

  7. Adam, I don't know if you'll ever see this, but the amount of thought, research, and overall polish that goes into videos like these legit ceases to impress me. Absolute blast seeing your videos pop up in my timeline, I always learn so much.

    Maybe you should try out a teaching job? Just sounds up your alley for some reason…

  8. HI Adam, 24 year old young man here. Just wanted to say I look up to you, and your comments about the kind of man you want to be inspire me. Love to you and yours.

  9. It's not just a machismo thing you nob. Pain triggers the release of endorphins which creates a rush. Some people enjoy that rush. And it's obviously safer if you're only simulating pain without actually hurting yourself.

    These videos are usually well-researched. But an experiment with a sample size of 100 people is hardly "scientific" proof of anything. I'm a man and I eat spicy food because pain without consequence is fun. Your increasingly sensational editorializing is getting old. I'm out.

    Also, nice (un)ironic flex at 7:19

  10. I always thought I was tougher with spice being from India. Then I had that nuclear fire noodle from Korea and my mouth almost gave away. Really humbling experience.
    Also yeah true the food is the only good thing that came out of our shit climate

  11. I know this is only half serious, and I appreciate the work you do on these videos. But I would argue 'toughness' is a matter of personal opinion that could easily encompass the ability to handle spicy foods better IMO.

  12. Chili peppers: makes capsaicin to discourage mammals to eat them
    Humans: eats them anyway

    Chili peppers: Am i a joke to you?

  13. It sounds like from Dr. Byrnes' study that people actually DO have different experiences, just some like it (for either extrinsic or intrinsic reasons) and some don't. I've definitely gotten a lot better with (read: desensitized myself to) spice over the years, but in that time I've also come to enjoy the sensation a lot more. Same experience, different reaction. Not to say that makes me more of a badass or anything of course, I just have different taste. For people who don't like spicy food, maybe they're not desensitized enough, or maybe they just haven't given it enough of a shot yet (or have and just don't like it).

  14. My main takeaway from this video is that I really wish I could go to the grocery store and buy some spicy craisins.

  15. I'm an indian who grew up in canada, so i'm surrounded by people who have a lower spice tolerance than I do. And it's always kinda funny and a lil borderline annoying (when they get too aggressive) when people egg me on to try the hottest most mouth scorching flavours of wings/ramen/shawarma spice level/whatever. Whether I feel the spice pain or not, at a certain point with aggressively spiced flavours, the chilli is the only thing you taste and there's no other flavouring to it. It's only purpose is to inflict pain, which is kinda boring to me. Anyways, point being, I agree with you. Eat the flavours you know you like, whether it be honey garlic or suicide spice LOL

  16. dude received ONE "not spicy enough" comment and went ahead to make a 12-minute video to defend his stance.
    salute my dude

  17. Me: an insecure kid who drinks his coffee black and bitter
    That dude from Tarantino's movie: a powerful alpha male not ashamed of ruining his cardiovascular system
    Also me: lives to 70, maybe
    Also that dude: dies of a heart attack at the end of that movie, probably, or at least soon after the credits roll

    Drink your coffee plain. It does make you more of a badass than adding cream and sugar to it.

  18. I feel as though he was passive-aggressively telling off all those people who had called him a wimp for not handling spicy food lol
    Anyways, great video!

  19. Very confused by the targeting of your ire in this video. I find that very few people who 'look close to you' as you say, seem to have some macho fixation on spiciness. Not being able to handle spice seems more commonly to be a bit of banter used against whites by non-white groups with more hot peppers traditionally found in their diet. That stereotyping seemed to be oddly absent from the cultural aspect of your analysis.

  20. You're entirely correct that desensitization progressively numbs the subjective pain of chillies the more often you eat them. Admittedly, I've opted for something more spicy than I otherwise would be able to comfortably have on many an occasion with the very implicit belief that I'd come off as tougher somehow despite being relatively sensitive to it back then. Thing is, I never stopped trying to push that threshold after one particular night where I downed a shot of chili-steeped vodka. I sat there feeling as if I was in over my head and that I needed to take a swig of the milk they provided fast. But I had friends around me who also took shots. So instead, I took control of myself mentally, just sat, closed my eyes, and learned to focus away from it, and just let it take its course. I ended up not even having to drink the milk until way after the heat subsided.

    For the first time in my life, having never meditated before, I really felt as if I could take control of my impulses and empty my mind. Chilies more than anything taught me that, yeah, I can be pretentious about being tough, but that actually following through on that allowed me to experience a glimpse of what it's actually like to be in heightened control of myself. Call it a mix of sensation seeking and sensitivity to reward, I guess. But that's my take on why I constantly challenge myself to withstand progressively spicier food and still feel proud about being more desensitized to it than others.

  21. Some badass fucked Adams wife, ate a ghost pepper then smacked Adam in the face and called him a bitch. I’d be angry enough to make a video too.

  22. As a lesbian who loves omegaverse stuff, men using the term alpha creeps me out so bad. Lol I am glad he is challenging those ideas tho!
    Also as a trans woman, I am so curious how trans men/trans women rank on that whole reward thing. Cause I know for myself it is kinda both? Like I actually enjoy the spice(specifically when juxtaposed with something contrasting in a dish) but like if someone calls me a badass for enjoying it, I'm not turning that down.
    Any who, I absolutely adore how he brings science into cooking!

  23. You seem to argue in your video that specifically men who enjoy spicy foods do so for the reason that it gives them social power; they think it makes them look cool (correct me if I'm wrong). The problem here is that men in general are more interested in acquiring some type of alpha status, it's just wired in our biology. If we have two groups of people, men who enjoy spicy foods and women who enjoy spicy foods, isn't it expected based on biology that the men will be more of the "sensitivity-to-reward" -type than the women? If we compared men who play football and women who play football, wouldn't the exact same results be likely? You wouldn't attack these men in a childish way saying they enjoy football only because of the social status, but instead you'd recognize they pursue social satus more than females, _because they are simply male and that's what males do_. I suppose this same point applies to the chili-eating men.

  24. I know the opening and title are meant to be like a joke burn, but they really ended up sounding like some loser whining. You could just present the interesting facts you've learned and have people arrive at that conclusion themselves, but instead framed it as a self-defense.

  25. I'm not particularly fond of spicy foods, but about once a year I'll get some really hot peppers and a handful of limes and devour them. I did this once accidentally in egypt while traveling sick and found it resets my senses and and kind of makes me "wake up." I'm a complete mess during the process but afterwords I feel amazing.

  26. I'm so happy I found this channel when I did I love it keep doing what you're doing man remind me of the show good eats when you do this

  27. But eating chilli does make you a badass …for the same reason knowing kung fu or being ripped makes you one..it's a state that most people don't reach because of the pain that needs to be endured to reach it..

  28. As someone that eats a lot of spicy foods, THANK YOU!! When i see fellow spice lovers that make fun of other people for enjoying their food however the fuck they want, annoys me.

  29. Another great video man. Your are the man. Like I've said before your good at this. Gordon Ramsay would be proud. Lol Your whole idea on how people think there better at capsaicin was awesome I think that when people compare themselves on how there better than others at it. But your science method makes so much sense I learn something new every time I watch any video you've uploaded. Been here from the start. Thank you once again for the lesson.

  30. Thank you for doing your small part to fight toxic masculinity. This channel is honestly just full of amazing surprises every episode.

  31. My initial senses would be to immediately criticize you immensely and dislike, but I finished the video. I do as well like the Wolf and Henry Rollins and while I do disagree with some points (maybe people eat lots of spicy foods because they themselves feel badass rather than relying on the gratification of others) I do agree on your main overarching point. Nice use of the Tarantino clip btw. Masculinity is defined not by how others define you, but how you define yourself. I have a passion for jazz music and poetry and have an anime profile pic from a romance anime. I couldn't give less than two fucks what anyone has to think. Masculinity or manliness or what have you isn't defined by what some random guy on the internet or street say, its in what you do personally, not in how many peppers you can eat.

    Do what you do, do it well, and when you do it well, that's fucking manly to me. Doesn't matter if it is MMA or cooking or ballet. I am glad we agree on this Adam, keep up the fine work and I am definitely getting the value out of my subscription to you.

  32. I like spicy food because it feels good to me, and it makes me sweat. I've got wonderfully soft skin from all the moisture

  33. I usually like these videos but I feel like your targeting on people trying to be "tough" might be catering to something that's close to home for you then it might be for the rest of the world. To a stretch it's like your making fun of someone who likes BDSM. If someone likes something let it be man.

  34. Adding spice to food is the culinary equivalent of chemical burns and ruins any food that would be perfectly fine if left plain. Fight me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top