Home > Science > Why Do People Tolerate Spicy Foods and Other Strong Flavours?

Why Do People Tolerate Spicy Foods and Other Strong Flavours?

August 14th, 2018

Human beings are unique in the animal kingdom for purposefully seeking out spicy food and strong flavours. Most animals avoid ingesting anything that causes pain or discomfort for fear of a serious injury or death. There are three specific reasons why we humans enjoy strong flavours.


Humans are not born to enjoy spicy food, but instead learn to love the burn through culture. Children raised in spice-loving regions like India and Mexico will eat foods such as hot peppers to emulate their older family members. Researchers found that, over time, ingesting certain molecules found in spicy foods will erode the body’s supply of a neurotransmitter known as Substance P. This neurotransmitter is what makes the brain associate pain with those spicy molecules, such as capsaicin. Therefore, people raised in a culture that enjoys eating spicy foods will have less Substance P, and thus less spice-induced pain, than people raised in other cultures.

Thrill-seeking Behaviour

For those of us who have not depleted our stores of Substance P, seeking out spicy food and other strong flavours can be a safe way to experience excitement. In this way, spicy food lovers have something in common with people who enjoy horror movies and roller coasters. Researchers have found a link between “sensation-seeking personalities” and enjoyment of spicy food.

The After-effects

Scientists have found that after eating spicy food, people can experience an increase in endorphins. These hormones are released in response to pain, and they have a soothing effect likened to euphoria. Alcohol and nicotine are two other acquired tastes that some people enjoy because of their psychological effects. People may seek out a strong drink like vodka to alleviate stress. Nicotine, such as that found in a products like siberia snus has its own mood-altering effects, like alertness and relaxation. It’s no wonder people may tolerate the strong sensation of spice, liquor, or snus in order to enjoy their pleasant effects.