Eating Spicy Food Doesn’t Mean You’re Tough, says SCIENCE

Eating Spicy Food Doesn’t Mean You’re Tough, says SCIENCE

No, loading up your food with enough chemical
heat to disperse a riot does not make you tough. Says who? Says science. You are not
impressing anybody. The most “alpha” thing to do is to eat your food how you actually
like it, and to let other people do the same. If how you actually like it is loaded up with
chilies, then more power to you, but the most likely explanation for that particular preference
is not that you’re a total bad-ass. The more likely explanation is that your nervous system
has simply become desensitized to these. One of these can taste 10x as hot to somebody
else as it does to you. You’re not having different reactions to the same sensation
– you’re having different sensations. Before we proceed, let’s get our nomenclature
straight. When I say “spicy” in this context, I’m not talking about spices generally. I’m
talking about chilies. Capsicums. Specifically, the chemical inside chilies called capsaicin.
Dr. Nadia Byrnes wrote her doctoral dissertation in food science all about why some people
seem to like the heat more than others. She says it’s important to understand that capsaicin
is not acting on our taste buds. It’s acting on a pain receptor that we have called TRPV1. “TRPV1 is actually — it’s a receptor that
is associated in detecting and regulating our body temperature. And so part of its role
is to tell us when there is something that, from a temperature perspective is hot enough
that it could do damage to our bodies.” And what capsaicin does when you eat it is
it lowers your mouth’s temperature pain threshold by about 10 degrees C, 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
You would normally start to feel some discomfort in your mouth at about 109 degrees F, or 43
degrees C… “…and so by dropping it about 10 degrees,
35 C, which is mouth temperature, is now triggering that and sending a signal to your brain that
this could do damage, this could be bad, this is hot.” That’s why you get temporary relief when you
take a swig of cold water — it’s not that it’s washing away the capsaicin, it’s actually
just lowering the temperature of your mouth. The second you swallow it, your mouth temperature
starts to go back up to normal again and you feel the burn. Scientists think chilies evolved to have this
chemical in them for a very specific purpose — to discourage us mammals from eating them,
while encouraging birds to eat all the chilies they want. Why? Well, because us mammals have
molars, AT LEAST SOME OF US DO, so when we eat chilies, we tend to grind up the seeds,
and by the time they pass through our system, they emerge so damaged that they can’t grow
new chili plants. Birds, on the other hand, swallow the seeds
whole. So birds can help the chili plant reproduce by dispersing its seeds far and wide, intact,
ready to grow a new plant. And birds have TRPV1 receptors that do not respond to capsaicin.
To them, it’s just like eating any other berry. Oooo, therefore birds are such bad-asses,
right? So why would we go out of our way to eat something
that a plant developed for the express purpose of repelling us? Well, lots of the plants that we use as flavorings
are actually trying to keep us away. Garlic is another prime example — the hot, pungent
flavor that you get from freshly chopped garlic is a chemical called allicin, which the garlic
only creates when it’s damaged. It’s a defense mechanism. The same chemical weapons these plants use
on us also happen to kill microorganisms — including many common food-borne pathogens. One theory
as to why super-spicy food became so much more popular in the Global South is that food
spoils way faster in warm climates. Dousing your food in garlic and chili can make it
last longer. And if your food does start to spoil, those super-strong flavors might overwhelm
the gross ones. And that gets at the main reason why I don’t
like a ton of mouth burn — I want to actually taste my food. And when I get a whole lot
of capsaicin in my mouth, I just feel like my whole sensory system becomes overwhelmed,
and I can’t taste what I’m eating. Chilies don’t “burn off” your taste buds — that’s
a myth — but one sensation absolutely can drown out the others. “Because the sensation that capsaicin elicits
is a pain response, there is some selective attention that is paid to that as your brain
is thinking, ‘This is something that could do harm, this is bad, I have to pay attention
to this.'” And one sensation that I absolutely want my
brain to be free to process is the delicious food that I get delivered to my door courtesy
of the sponsor of this video, HelloFresh, America’s #1 meal kit, whom I will now take
one brief moment to thank. Lauren’s been loving HelloFresh. She’s got a few great recipes
that she does, but generally she’s not super-confident in the kitchen, and HelloFresh takes so much
of the stress out of cooking for her. Clear instructions, pre-measured ingredients, there’s
no going to the store and being worried you’re buying the wrong thing. And it allows us to
get a homemade meal on the table even in the midst of our normal weeknight chaos. “What this! A hat!” And HelloFresh also kinda broke us out of
some ruts. They’ve got 20+ seasonal, chef-curated recipes each week — all familiar enough,
but often with one element or one ingredient that we wouldn’t normally use. And it’s flexible.
If we’re gonna be out of town or something we can skip a week, no problem. And HelloFresh
is now from $5.66 per serving. And if you sign up using my offer code, you’ll get eight
meals free — that’s $80 off your first month of HelloFresh. Just go to and
enter my code adamragusea80. That’s all in the description. And we were free to make those tacos as spicy
as we wanted, by the way. It’s interesting how when you eat something spicy, the heat
tends to kinda grow over the course of the meal. “You actually see, over the course of a single
eating experience, people exhibit sensitization, which means that it seems that it’s just getting
more and more and more intense. But over a longer period of time, you see what’s called
chronic desensitization, and you see that people’s threshold sensitivity actually goes
down. So you could essentially train yourself will small doses of capsaicin to lower your
threshold. But you’d have to be really consistent.” So, to my Indian viewers, for example, the
reason that you like way more Kashmiri chili powder in your tandoori chicken than I do
is not because you’re so much tougher than me. I mean, you may indeed be tougher than
me, but that’s beside this particular point. The more likely explanation is that, due to
your country’s climate, your exquisite cuisine evolved to have more spices of all kinds in
it, and because you therefore grew up eating way more capsaicin than I did, you have to
pour on way more chili powder than I do to get that same pleasant, mild burn that we
both enjoy, due to the wonderful and mysterious mingling of pain and pleasure in our brains. And honestly, if you’re a person who simply
grew up in a culinary tradition like those of India, or Southeast Asia or Latin America,
I have no complaint with you. I have a problem with dudes of a heritage a little closer to
mine who right now are probably thinking, “Yes, exactly, this is why my eating chilies
is a reflection of my bad-assery. I have trained my system. It’s an adaptation to stress, just
like weight-training.” Indeed, 45 pounds does feel way heavier to
me than it does to, say, 4x Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler, and that is because he has subjected
his muscles to way more stress, thereby forcing them to adapt and get stronger. And yes, that
does make Jay more of a bad-ass than me. But here’s the thing, dude — making your muscles
stronger actually has a point. You can do something with that strength. You can defeat
me in battle, or maybe help me move my couch. But physiologically adapting yourself to capsaicin
enables you to do what, exactly? Eat lots of chilies? Cool trick, bro. No, I figure that in this respect, chronic
capsaicin desensitization is more akin to how we adapt to light. Imagine if you went
and stood on my front porch, while I went into my bathroom, drew the shades and turned
off all the lights. Then we both stepped out onto my front lawn. You’d be perfectly comfortable
in the sunlight, while I would be squinting. Are you more of a bad-ass than me at that
moment? No. You’re just a person with constricted pupils, and I’m a person with dilated pupils.
Our eyes are, for the moment, calibrated differently. We’re not having different reactions to the
same experience — we’re having different experiences. That said, capsaicin desensitization does
not fully explain why some people seem to eat way more of it than their peers do. “Across all cultures, you kind of anecdotally
hear that there’s always a few people who are pushing it, and are always going higher,
and always going higher, and always going higher.” Trying to understand that phenomenon was the
main focus of Dr. Byrnes dissertation research at Penn State. She brought in about a hundred
people living in my hometown of State College, Pennsylvania, and she had them taste all kinds
of things, including precisely measured capsaicin doses. The participants ranked how intense
the samples tasted to them, and then they filled out some questionnaires, about what
kinds of foods they like, and also about their personality more broadly. Then she went looking for correlations between
certain personality types and a propensity to eat super-spicy food. What she found was
very different correlations between men vs. women. Women who said they really liked the heat
were more likely to exhibit a broader personality trait known as “sensation seeking,” which
is defined as “a need for novel and intense stimulation.” Whereas the men who said they liked the heat
were more likely to exhibit a trait called “sensitivity to reward.” “Sensitivity to reward is a portion of a personality
questionnaire that is really built to measure extrinsic rewards, so it’s kind of learned
rewards — things like money, power, status, where sensation seeing is a measure that really
taps into a more intrinsic reward, so things that there could be a more of a biological,
like, hard-wiring.” So the women that Dr. Brynes studied were
more likely to get a hit of dopamine, or some other good feeling directly in response to
the burn. Whereas the men that she studied seemed to be getting a good feeling in response
to how bad-ass they imagined that eating capsaicin made them look in the eyes of other people. “It’s really possible that that’s all just
a learned association, and that men are kind of torturing themselves in eating these spicy
foods, not because they’re actually enjoying it, but because they enjoy that social status
that’s coming with it.” And that, boys, is what I call weak sauce. Don’t be that guy. You know who you want to
be like? You want to be like the “The Wolf.” Quinton Tarantino’s cinematic universe is
teaming with testosterone but the most alpha of all Tarantino characters is Winston Wolfe
from “Pulp Fiction,” and what does The Wolf say when somebody asks him how he wants his
coffee? “Oh, um, how do you take it?” “Lots of cream, lots of sugar.” That line is in the movie for a reason. It’s
there to establish that The Wolf doesn’t need to impress the other boys by ordering his
coffee black. He’s confident enough in his manhood that he can order his food and drink
however they hell he damn-well actually likes it. “Mmm!” That’s the guy that I want to be, and that
is my closing argument to you. Quick epilogue, though. What’s Dr. Byrnes
been doing since she got her PhD? Well she’s now the Principal Sensory Scientist at Ocean
Spray Cranberries, and guess what? “Ocean Spray has a product in Mexico called
Enchilados.” Yep, spicy dried cranberries. Hey, take your
pleasure however you find it. “Any way you want it, that’s the way you need
it, any way you want it…”

100 thoughts on “Eating Spicy Food Doesn’t Mean You’re Tough, says SCIENCE

  1. Q: Are you just butt-hurt that someone made fun of you for ordering your curry mild?
    A: Chillax. Though I do sincerely believe the argument I made in this video, I intend that argument to primarily serve as an amusing framework for us all to learn some interesting science about why chilies make us feel the way they do. I consider these Monday (or, in this case, Tuesday, due to administrative delay) videos to be journalism, and I think one defining aspect of journalism as a form of communication is that its primary function is to inform, rather than to persuade. You can write an opinion piece where you're trying to persuade people to see things the way you do, but that mission should be secondary to the primary goal of giving them enough information to come to their own conclusions. I think I gave you plenty of information in this video to come to an opposing viewpoint. Eat what you like to eat, and be more informed in the act.

    Q: Why are you using plastic products a week after you told us that food plastics are messing with our hormones?
    A: We make choices in life in which we have to balance many competing interests. Based on what I learned making that video, I've chosen to replace most of my reusable food containers with glass, and to stop microwaving my plastics, but I don't think it's feasible to banish all food plastics from my diet, and even if it was, there are other interests to consider. This is purely a guess, but I would guess the net effect of food plastics has been to make our food supply safer, even when taking endocrine disruption into account. Also, I love canned tomatoes, and would probably eat them even if I knew they would literally kill me. I gave you some information; make your own choices with that info, and I'll make mine.

    Q: But seriously, why did you turn a science video into an argument about toxic masculinity?
    A: You may laugh, but I suddenly find myself in the position of being a 37-year-old man with a large audience of much younger men. I am seriously worried about the concepts of masculinity that I see metastasizing among young men these days (especially in certain online communities), and I feel an obligation to offer a model of masculinity that I believe is better for the world. I know that when I was a teenager, the male role models society offered to me were either the same-old unenlightened meatheads or painfully ineffectual and unsexy '90s men. I had no idea how to navigate between those two extremes until I found two male role models who taught me, in large measure, how to be the man I try to be today: Henry Rollins and Anthony Bourdain. It's possible to be an enlightened bad-ass — to care about other people's feelings, to be smart, to be nurturing, and also to be resilient, assertive and, frankly, fuckable. I learned that from Hank and Tony, and if I can pass that wisdom to others, I will. The kitchen is a place where I think a lot of these issues come up.

  2. I'm so happy I found this channel when I did I love it keep doing what you're doing man remind me of the show good eats when you do this

  3. But eating chilli does make you a badass …for the same reason knowing kung fu or being ripped makes you's a state that most people don't reach because of the pain that needs to be endured to reach it..

  4. As someone that eats a lot of spicy foods, THANK YOU!! When i see fellow spice lovers that make fun of other people for enjoying their food however the fuck they want, annoys me.

  5. Another great video man. Your are the man. Like I've said before your good at this. Gordon Ramsay would be proud. Lol Your whole idea on how people think there better at capsaicin was awesome I think that when people compare themselves on how there better than others at it. But your science method makes so much sense I learn something new every time I watch any video you've uploaded. Been here from the start. Thank you once again for the lesson.

  6. Thank you for doing your small part to fight toxic masculinity. This channel is honestly just full of amazing surprises every episode.

  7. My initial senses would be to immediately criticize you immensely and dislike, but I finished the video. I do as well like the Wolf and Henry Rollins and while I do disagree with some points (maybe people eat lots of spicy foods because they themselves feel badass rather than relying on the gratification of others) I do agree on your main overarching point. Nice use of the Tarantino clip btw. Masculinity is defined not by how others define you, but how you define yourself. I have a passion for jazz music and poetry and have an anime profile pic from a romance anime. I couldn't give less than two fucks what anyone has to think. Masculinity or manliness or what have you isn't defined by what some random guy on the internet or street say, its in what you do personally, not in how many peppers you can eat.

    Do what you do, do it well, and when you do it well, that's fucking manly to me. Doesn't matter if it is MMA or cooking or ballet. I am glad we agree on this Adam, keep up the fine work and I am definitely getting the value out of my subscription to you.

  8. I like spicy food because it feels good to me, and it makes me sweat. I've got wonderfully soft skin from all the moisture

  9. I usually like these videos but I feel like your targeting on people trying to be "tough" might be catering to something that's close to home for you, more so than it might be for the rest of the world. To a stretch it's like your making fun of someone who likes BDSM. If someone likes something let it be man.

  10. Adding spice to food is the culinary equivalent of chemical burns and ruins any food that would be perfectly fine if left plain. Fight me.

  11. Many south-east asians need to watch this! As many of us like to mock those who have low threshold for hot and spicy food as wimp. 😄

  12. I like adding enough heat that you realize that the food tastes great. BTW, did your kid say, "Watch this, it's a hat."?

  13. I do like to put some chopped jalapeno in my mac'n'cheese then a ring of sriracha around the edge, so I can change how spicy each bite is.

  14. Welp now all youtube videos with people eating really spicy food are going to fade away… except Hot Ones. That show is fun.

  15. I tell this to people all the time. I LOVE spicy food. I have been eating it for my whole life. It's got nothing to do with me being a big toughie.

  16. Feel like this is pointed at someone specifically, all good and I get it. FYI when your a white guy eating with a table fully of Asians you automatically get social status by eating and truly enjoying the sambal, not the red one the green one!

  17. 1 degree celsius is equal to 1.8 degrees fahrenheit, celsius' 0 starts at water freezing (32f), so if the temperature outside is 10c it's 50f, but lowering by 10c is equal to lowering by 18f

  18. I enjoy the flavors of the peppers, and the dopamine. Besides the sensations, capsaicin is thought to improve cardiovascular health and metabolism. More study is required.

  19. The motivation for this video seems to be some kind of traumatic converstaion adam had when he was a little boy and now he has to move past it

  20. With regards of the research Isn't this Sensory Processing rather than personality with regards with woman who like spicy food

  21. funny enough, I have a very very high pain threshold, to an unhealthy degree, but I can't stand spicy. at all. To give an example, I was in labor with my son and the nurse would look at the monitor and make comments like "wow, that must have been a huge contraction!". But I never felt a single contraction pain from start to finish. But with spicy food, anything spicier than ketchup makes me want to vomit. I can eat things like wasabi and horseradish with no issues, but feed me a Bird's Eye and you'll be wearing it.

  22. Thanks for this one. I wondered why my parrot loved peppers so much no matter how hot they were. Seems I should have already known this but I didn't.

  23. Eat what you like. Simple as that.

    A good ammount of spice is whatever you want it to be, it's about the sensation. There is come flavour that comes from chilies that shouldn't go unspoken, but its mostly adding spice so if you don't like it, don't add any… Simple as that.

    I like to think of the concept of stupid spice vs flavoured spice. Like comparing "the bomb" hot sauce/ hot ones wings in general, to something like a budder chicken or curry…. One is in there for cullinairy reasons, the dish calls for a mild burn along with the flavour… Whereas the "hot for the sake of showboating" hotwings are clearly more vane in purpose and probably taste awful.

  24. I personally just really enjoy the flavor, for a while I was eating some cayenne every morning for health benefits. Like you said though, if you can't taste the peppers as a compliment to your food and are only tasting heat it's kind of silly.

  25. It's different when your culinary traditions are steeped in spices. You naturally desensitise to chili– I purposefully have to stay away from them to an extent so that all chilis lose their punch and lack heat.

    I agree with everyone who says:
    A. Every chili has a different, unique and wonderful flavour for different culinary contexts.
    B. Being able to eat spicier foods lets you eat and appreciate a much broader palette of dishes.

    And having that tolerance still lets you appreciate any dishes without heat so having a good degree capsaicin tolerance is only a plus when it comes to eating and appreciating food.

  26. Omg??? Her dissertation was kinda like my final project in high school but with actual research and surveys, i did a personal project regarding personality and flavor correlation too lol!!!

  27. "toxic masculinity"

    I, too, want men and women to be completely homogenous without defining individual traits to one another.

  28. How would the chilli plants evolve to discourage mammals from eating them when all of the plants eaten by mammals were killed off? Wouldn't that argument be better framed insofar as the plants evolved to ENCOURAGE birds to eat them – but that doesn't explain the spiciness mechanism from evolving.

  29. I as a man liking hot food, I don't want to be badass, because I eat spicy food. I just like the hot, almost tickling sensation of the pepers in my mouth. And I also just like the taste of chili pepers

  30. But when I eat at home (often by myself) I like as much hotness as when out with others. I eat it for me because it just enjoy it. Not just pure spiciness either, I want flavorful chiles like habaneros.

  31. I'm all for fun and games but I can't stand idly by while you undermine the sanctity of eating spicy. Sure maybe some schoolyard boys have chided others for not being able to take a glug of hot sauce on a dare, but think of the bigger picture. The ability to eat spicy is a monument to the indomitable will of human beings.

    One of the reasons the Hot Ones interviews reached the heights that it has (besides Sean Evan being an absolute legend) is watching people take on the challenge. Some of the guests struggle but push on through sheer willpower. Others fold prematurely—how they choose to quit also gives great insight into their personality. We all know by now that capsaicin doesn't do any permanent damage, so really all that's holding you back is your mental game and the incredible, burning pain you feel.

    Gender expectations have shaped spicy eating culture for sure. "Masculine" behaviors relating to never backing down from a challenge and exuding a level of mastery are alluring on many different levels. Acts like opening a jar, killing the spider, taking a shot—while these acts can perpetuate toxic mentalities, a lot of people are fueled by the challenge and the real value they gain through the external validation they receive. Sure, building strength is still important today, but why do you think those bodybuilders push their bodies to their limits everyday? (Hint: it's not to help move your couch)

    But spicy eating, especially these days, is also a great equalizer. You have couples on YouTube dying doing the buldak ramen challenge together, you got spicy pepper and hot wings challenges all around the globe. People everywhere testing their limits and proving that they can set out and achieve that goal, even if it means spending a whole day on the toilet. If you can eat a ghost pepper and live to tell the tale—well, I think you're pretty dang tough.

    On another note, like you mentioned some cultures haven't been introducing enough capsaicin, spice, and diversity into their diets. As we continue to move towards a more global society, I really do think you miss out on a lot of the world's experiences if you aren't equipped to try every cuisine. Maybe it's too late for some set in their ways (and their heat tolerance) but I do think it's important to introduce all kinds of spicy and funky foods to developing palates. Have you ever tried mala/numbing spice of Sichuan cuisine fame?

    All jokes aside, thanks for the informative video. The correlation of personalities for both sexes in relation to spicy consumption was particularly interesting. Also regarding your staring-at-the-light analogy—I wouldn't make a contest out of it but if one of my friends constantly refused to go out because it was too bright outside, I would definitely rag on him. While I personally am a spicy-aficionado, I understood your position that for some, with eating spicy, you don't need to prove anything. So tell me, why'd you include so many shots of you eating hot peppers? Cheers!

  32. I think this partially explains why I'm the black sheep of my family. I don't like spicy. the barest whiff of capsaicin puts me going in the opposite direction. I also couldn't care less about what people think of my opinions or my non destructive actions that affect no one.

  33. So many people taking this video waaay to personally. The study only suggests a possible correlation, not “proving” it, so put down the capsaicin and chill out

  34. Stereotypical Jewtalian beta cuck trying to justify his lack of spice tolerance. (You're a shame to your fellow guineas m8, no spicy meatball for you.)

  35. Now that was a hot take.
    But seriously, who cares? Eat what you want, spicy food is cool and exciting, and being good at eating it is no different than being good a some useless sport like football. It makes you as 'tough' as being good at anything else. Also the bodybuilder analogy was wrong, it's not like men are lifting weights to help others lift couches or whatever, men do it to feel badass, and that's ok, as long as you're not being an asshole in the process.

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