When it comes to eating hot peppers and hot pepper products, the trick is part of the treat. That’s because capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot peppers that makes them so spicy hot, is actually playing a trick on your mind and body. After all, the pepper’s not really on fire, but your mind is probably telling you otherwise!
That burn you feel when the pepper first touches your mouth is the capsaicin, and it’s really just a sensation. When the substance hits your tongue it interacts with a protein on your nerve cells. While normally it’s physical heat that stimulates this particular protein, this time your nerve cells quickly carry the message to your brain that something you’ve just tasted is burning hot. In other words, capsaicin plays a trick on your mind, making you think something is hot in the physical sense when in reality there’s no actual physical heat at all. Your brain simply doesn’t know the difference. That’s why you may also feel a similar sensation if you try to touch an extremely hot pepper with your bare hands, or if you ever accidentally experience the extreme pain of touching your eyes after handling a hot pepper.
So what makes some people crave this super hot feeling? It has to do, at least in part, with endorphins. To relieve the pain, your body releases endorphins and dopamine, which some say feels kind of like a “runner’s high”. That’s the reward you get for fighting through the burning hot pain. If you’re up for the challenge there are certainly all kinds of ways to put this theory to the test. With so many spicy hot flavors to choose from it’s easy to test your capacity for pain. Just take our advice, and slowly work your way up the heat scale.