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Why Are Spicy Foods So Addictive?

Posted by Terra's Kitchen on Tue, Aug 1, '17

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Are you or someone you know addicted to spicy food? Do you find yourself not being able to stop eating, even when the burn is making you sweat? Don’t worry, it’s not technically an addiction, but you are at serious risk of turning into a chili chaser.

Chilis and other spicy peppers are members of the capsicum family. Capsicum’s don’t want to be eaten (who can blame them?) so they produce a chemical called capsaicinoids to protect themselves from animals (that’s you, human!) and fungi.

Capsaicinoids have no flavor or odor, so your taste buds aren’t even involved in this whole “my mouth’s on fire, but I can’t stop eating it” thing. That painful burning sensation that your twisted cousin can’t get enough of comes from these capsaicinoid compounds in the chili -- the most well-known of which is capsaicin (when we learn how to pronounce all these names, we’ll do another post).

When eaten, capsaicinoids act directly on the pain receptors in the mouth and throat. Suddenly feeling like they’re burning, these receptors frantically send signals to the brain that trigger a pain response. The brain doesn’t know that the mouth isn’t actually on fire so it responds as it would to any painful trauma -- sending a flood of endorphins (the body’s natural painkiller, which block the nerve’s ability to send pain signals) and dopamine which deliver messages to our pleasure receptors, helping to calm the body. This pleasure shot of endorphins and dopamine somehow makes the fire on our lips and tongues totally worth it.

 

That’s why you just. can’t. stop. eating. that. salsa.

 

But, you can’t actually get addicted to spicy foods like you can to coffee or sweets. While you may crave that spicy sensation, your body won't become dependent on it like it does with caffeine or sugar. So don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about chasin’ those chilis.

Want to spice up your Terra's Kitchen meal kit meals? We include pro-tips for improving your cooking, including increasing the spice level on every recipe card. If you really want to step up your spice game, look for our recipes with the word "Spice" in the name... it's that simple! Click below to view our full meal delivery service menu and to learn more.

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Topics: nutrition