Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Why does your mouth feel like it's on fire when you eat a spicy pepper?

  • And how do you soothe the burn?

  • Why does wasabi make your eyes water?

  • And how spicy is the spiciest spice?

  • Let's back up a bit.

  • First, what is spiciness?

  • Even though we often say that something tastes spicy, it's not actually a taste like sweet or salty or sour.

  • Instead, what's really happening is that certain compounds in spicy foods activate the type of sensory neurons called polymodal nociceptors.

  • You have these all over your body including your mouth and nose and they're the same receptors that are activated by extreme heat.

  • So, when you eat a chili pepper, your mouth feels like it's burning.

  • Because your brain actually thinks it's burning.

  • The opposite happens when you eat something with menthol in it.

  • The cool, minty compound is activating your cold receptors.

  • When these heat-sensitive receptors are activated, your body thinks it's in contact with a dangerous heat source and reacts accordingly.

  • This is why you start to sweat, and your heart starts beating faster.

  • The peppers have elicited the same fight-or-flight response with which your body reacts to most threats.

  • But you may have noticed that not all spicy foods are spicy in the same way.

  • And the difference lies in the types of compounds involved.

  • The capsaicin and piperine, found in black pepper and chili peppers, are made up of larger, heavier molecules called alkylamides.

  • And those mostly stay in your mouth.

  • Mustard, horseradish, and wasabi are made up of smaller molecules called isothiocyanates, that easily float up into your sinuses.

  • This is why chili peppers burn your mouth,and wasabi burns your nose.

  • The standard measure of a food's spiciness is its rating on the Scoville scale which measures how much its capsaicin content can be diluted before the heat is no longer detectable to humans.

  • A sweet bell pepper gets 0 Scoville heat units, while Tabasco sauce clocks in between 1,200-2,400 units.

  • The race to create the hottest pepper is a constant battle.

  • But two peppers generally come out on top : The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and the Carolina Reaper.

  • These peppers measure between 1.5 and 2 million Scoville heat units, which is about half the units found in pepper spray.

  • So, why would anyone want to eat something that causes such high levels of pain?

  • Nobody really knows when or why humans started eating hot peppers.

  • Archaeologists have found spices like mustard along with human artifacts dating as far back as 23,000 years ago.

  • But they don't know whether the spices were used for food or medication or just decoration.

  • More recently, a 6,000 year old crockpot, lined with charred fish and meat, also contained mustard.

  • One theory says that humans starting adding spices to food to kill off bacteria.

  • And some studies show that spice developed mostly in warmer climates where microbes also happen to be more prevalent.

  • But why we continue to subject ourselves to spicy food today is still a bit of a mystery.

  • For some people, eating spicy food is like riding roller-coasters; they enjoy the ensuing thrill, even if the immediate sensation is unpleasant.

  • Some studies have even shown that those who like to eat hot stuff are more likely to enjoy other adrenaline-rich activities, like gambling.

  • The taste for spicy food may even be genetic.

  • And if you're thinking about training a bit, to up your tolerance for spice, know this

  • According to some studies, the pain doesn't get any better.

  • You just get tougher.

  • In fact, researchers have found that people who like to eat spicy foods don't rate the burn any less painful than those who don't.

  • They just seem to like the pain more.

  • So, torment your heat receptors all you want.

  • But remember, when it comes to spicy food,you're going to get burned.

Why does your mouth feel like it's on fire when you eat a spicy pepper?

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B2 TED-Ed spicy spicy food pepper heat wasabi

【TED-Ed】The science of spiciness - Rose Eveleth

  • 1895 116
    Sofi posted on 2014/03/18
Video vocabulary