From Obscure to Mainstream: Why Spicy Foods Are So Wildly Popular

It’s so messed up, right?

You were the first to like spicy foods and hot-sauce-on-everything in your squad and now all of a sudden the world is on the kick it up a notch wagon.

“I was the first dammit!” you scream to your brother from another mother who just doused their taco with a tongue-throbbing habanero sauce.

Don’t let him out-cool you with that hot sauce. You let him know you were the genius that started the ghost pepper sauce on your spaghetti trend or how you were the one who discovered scorpion pepper sauce tastes amazing swirled in your clam chowder. You’re not basic.

So why are spicy foods now a thing? Will you ever be an original trendsetter again?

There are trends in all food spectrums and hot sauce is now one of them. How spicy can you go? How can you push the envelope of culinary shock value? Here are some of the ways spicy foods became “a thing”.

The Instant Gratification Effect - In this age of sharing your dog finally catching his tale on Snapchat stories or swiping right on Tinder, it’s no wonder that wanting that instant reward for everything you do (or taste) is trending. The psychology of eating something and being instantly gratified (not talking brain freeze after an ice cream binge) is not something new, but that has reached new heights with spicy foods. Instant gratification after biting into that jalapeño pepper has the same instant “dangerous” effect as not dying on that roller coaster, your parachute not malfunctioning after you jump out of a plane, and not getting a “what’s up” follow up text after a one night stand. Phew! This is known as Sensation Seeking and is a personality trait where people are more sensitive to reward than others. This could be both people who enjoy extreme sensations and those who need to prove their machismo by consuming the spiciest foods and living to tell the tale.

The Desensitizing of Society Effect - The trend in culinary fare today is to take it to the next level. With bland ‘Merica foods like hot dogs and hamburgers getting the Sriracha treatment, chefs are upping their game by latching onto the trend like a newborn baby to a lactating nipple. With more of our mainstream foods becoming spicy, our tongues are learning to take the heat and essentially over time wanting even more. We’ve become as a society desensitized to everything from TMZ-style news to political scandals and now eye-watering hot sauce drizzled over our tater tots. Every year there seems to be a spicier pepper being cultivated in order to keep up with everyone’s numbing palate.

The Cultural Effect - Long before America was the land of the free and the home of the Carolina Reaper, other cultures were embracing spicy foods and making it a part of their everyday consumption - even kids as little as diaper status. People who grew up in Mexican and Asian cultures are more likely to incorporate spicy foods and spicy sauces in their everyday diets. The eating habits of these cultures and the consumption of spicy foods are attributed to a “learned behavior” early on in life.

The Losing The Beer Gut Effect - It’s not easy to lose the gut or any other fatty part of the body. Eating healthy is a good idea, but choosing to add hot sauce to your cauliflower may also have its benefits too. Capsaicin, the compound found in hot peppers that give it its heat, can be given props to helping to burn fat faster than just eating a boring, dry celery stick. This magical compound can help speed up the metabolism, reduce fatty tissue, and keep those munchies at bay. Our diets are veering away from the all-you-can-eat buffets to now embracing the healthy, organic lifestyle which can be a little tasteless. Hot sauce adds a no-to-low calorie flavorful element to each bite which has made it a staple not only for chicken wings and nachos but healthy foods like veggies and egg dishes.

The I’m So High, Just Kidding Effect - If you’re sober and proud raise your bottle of Liquid Fire. The trend of getting a natural high is popular now that everything is becoming legal - prohibition over - boring, legalizing weed? snoozefest. Grab your bottle of hot sauce and drown your sober sorrows in a monster plate of nachos. The effect of spicy foods and sauces can have the same temporary effect as getting high. When you bite into the little jalapeño that is resting atop your Del Taco nachos your body instantly releases endorphins to block the heat. This natural response can cause your head to buzz and a numbing effect, much like drugs or 3 1/2 cocktails. Some have even reported hallucinogenic effects. Channel an ancient Mayan at your next Ouija board seance and they’ll tell you they used to get high off this stuff 9,000 years ago.

The Look At Me Effect - If your friend is still thinking he is the coolest dude in the room because he can take the hottest sauce available at the local taqueria and dousing it on his burrito, then maybe he is trying to prove how macho he is. Look at me, I’m not weak, I can take the heat. In a study between men and women and why each gender chooses spicy foods, men choose it to prove their toughness, manliness, and strength. I guess this would also be called the Popeye syndrome.

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