One of the most common question chili heads get from non-chili heads is; if it hurts, why do it? In life, there is usually no gain without at least a bit of pain. Want a cool tattoo? You’re gonna have to endure up to several hours of pain due to the endless stabbing of needles into your skin. But, hey, at least you have a cool piece of art on your body to show for it. When it comes to those hot heads who love to blow their tops off by eating the hottest peppers in the world, it’s hard to see what they gain for all this pain.
However, just like a runner’s high, eating chili peppers can actually release endorphins, which is commonly referred to as ‘the pleasure hormone’. When capsaicin (the compound in chilies that gives it its heat) is consumed, it binds with pain receptors in the mouth and throat, the brain then responds by increasing your heart rate, increasing perspiration, and releasing endorphins.
Your body releases endorphins for many reasons; one of them is that it is a response to pain. If you fall and break your leg, your body will release endorphins to help you deal with the pain. However, when it comes to hot peppers, although it may feel like your throat and mouth are engulfed in flames, there is no actual fire. With the release of enough endorphins, you could enjoy a sense of euphoria without worrying about how you’re going to make your way to a hospital to fix that leg, or how to put out that fire in your mouth.*
Along with the release of endorphins, psychologist, Paul Rozin, believes there is another reason for our growing affinity for hot peppers. The purpose of capsaicin and the burning sensation it delivers is supposed to dissuade humans and animals from eating it. However, as we have evolved, we have developed quite the taste for these piquante peppers. Rozin speculates that eating chili peppers is a form of ‘constrained risk’, just like riding on a roller coaster. Constrained risk is when we experience extreme sensations or scenarios without the actual danger of bodily harm. Riding a roller coaster is terrifying but also enjoyable. It is enjoyable because you trust that whatever mechanism that has you strapped in will not fail. You are then free to enjoy the blasts of speed, the twists, the turns, and the 400ft drops. Similarly, falling out of an airplane could be a lovely sensation, until you realize you are plummeting to your death. The use of a parachute and a guide allows us to enjoy these exhilarating sensations without fearing for our lives. Many of those adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers, who would rather not jump out of a plain to get their fix, become chili heads. The experience of pain without fear of bodily harm is a form of constrained risk that is sought after by many.
So there you have it, it’s SCIENCE.
Without further ado, here is a woman exhibiting constrained risk in a very controlled and distinguished manner (sarcasm) a whole lotta Bhut Jolokia's (aka Ghost Peppers):
*We would like to make a note that while eating our hot sauce is not dangerous; there could be risks involved in eating extreme foods like hot peppers. Please take caution when attempting to eat exceptionally hot peppers such as the Ghost or Scorpion pepper. Gourmet Chips & Sauces encourages safe eating and knowing your limits. Keep hot sauces away from children.