Why Some People Have Higher Tolerance To Spicy Food Compared To Others
People have different levels of tolerance for spicy food
You probably know some people who cannot resist putting anything spicy - from chilli sauce to wasabi - into whatever that they are eating. You can see how much they love spice when you see the pain they would go through, as they chug down water and wipe away their sweat, just to eat spicy food.
On the other hand, you probably also know some other people who would always return their food to the kitchen or just leave it completely uneaten if their food is too spicy.
Have you ever wondered why some people can tolerate spicy food better and they actually delight in savouring those pain-inflicting food?
Here are some common theories:
1. It's in their genes
Capsaicin is the active chemical that is usually found in chilis. It stimulates receptors known as TRPV1 (transient receptor potential vanilloid), which detect spiciness and these are the same receptors that respond to dangerously hot temperatures.
When stimulated, these receptors transmit pain, which leads to people feeling a burning sensation.
Some researchers have theorised that certain people who can tolerate spicy food better might have just been born with lesser TRPV1 - which means they have less sensitivity to spice - or that the receptors itself are less sensitive to spicy food.
Food historian Dave Dewitt once said, "The people born with no capsaicin receptors are those you see chugging bottles of super hot sauce. It's similar to an allergy—there are people who are not allergic to poison ivy."
2. They eat spicy food frequently
Some people might be born with a higher sensitivity to spice and they experience the effects of spiciness more than those with lower sensitivity, but researchers have pointed out that a person's spicy food-threshold is also determined by how much that person uses his or her receptors.
Studies have suggested that people develop a higher tolerance when they eat spicy food repeatedly.
An associate professor at the Culinary Institute of America, William Phillips, pointed out that people in some parts of the world such as Mexico or India naturally have higher tolerance for spicy food because they've been eating spicy food since young.
It is said that these receptors can be "trained" to be desensitised to capsaicin over time and cause the person to actually perceive less burn from it. This phenomenon is known as "capsaicin desensitisation".
3. It's in their personality
A study in 2012 revealed that sensation-seeking individuals are more likely to like spicy food. The researchers found that people who are more open to new experiences and enjoy thrill-based activities such as driving fast cars or riding a roller coaster, tend to love spicy food even if the immediate sensation is unpleasant because of their preference for oral burn.
"Biologically, spice creates a sensation in the mouth that the brain interprets as burning or being on fire. When your body realises there's no real danger, it begins to interpret the sensation as a 'thrill' similar to gambling or riding roller coasters," said Nadia Byrnes, one of the researchers at Pennsylvania State University.
This explains why some people who didn't grow up eating spicy food may still like it. In fact, a psychologist even coined the term 'benign masochism" to refer to such a phenomenon where people enjoy seemingly unpleasant activities.
If you've always wanted to develop a higher tolerance for spicy food, here's some good news: You can actually do it ...with some "training"
As mentioned earlier, people who take spicy food frequently could be desensitised to the pain. So if you'd like to build your spicy food tolerance, just eat more spicy food and eat them regularly and this will increase your tolerance slowly, over time.
Paul Rozin, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a study and revealed that people are able to develop a liking for innately unpalatable substances such as chilli pepper and black coffee through repeated exposure.
It's fair to note that people who like the spicy food do not necessarily think the food is less spicy than those who don't like spicy food. It's just that they like the pain more.
As food choice researcher John Hayes said, "Chilli-heads like the burn more, not just perceive it less."
Can you tolerate spicy food and do you like eating pain-inducing food? Let us know in the comment section below!