What does it mean if you love hot sauce?
There are several theories on why humans love hot sauce, one of which is that it comes down to your personality. That being said, personality is
complex and while some traits are innate, others are conditioned. Evidence suggests that liking hot sauce falls somewhere between these
two ideas. However, unlike with personality, there is no Myers-Briggs test to determine your spicy personality traits and research is mostly anecdotal.
According to Dr. Paul Rozin, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, people eat spicy food as a thrill-seeking activity. He calls this type of thrill-seeking “constrained risk” or “benign masochism”. Similar to enjoying roller-coasters, scary movies, or even listening to sad music, benign masochism allows people the excitement of a ‘negative’ or ‘dangerous’ experience with the comfort of knowing that everything will be fine.
Now, anyone who has tried our African Ghost Pepper sauce may not appreciate comparing the experience to “listening to a sad song,” but the truth is eating chilli is relatively harmless.
Despite this, “can chilli kill you?” and “can I eat hot sauce every day?” are some of the most googled chilli related questions on the internet.
According to Paul Bosland, professor of horticulture at New Mexico State University and Director of the Chile Pepper Institute, death by chilli pepper is possible in theory but is extraordinarily unlikely in people with well-functioning digestive systems. He states that “people’s bodies would falter long before they reach that point” and it would take a 150-pound person consuming 3 pounds of extreme chilli, in one sitting, for the possibility to occur. In fact, evidence suggests that eating hot sauce has health benefits like boosting your immune system and metabolism and promoting weight loss.
All that being said, what if you’re someone who hates roller coasters, doesn’t like watching scary movies, but still find yourself asking “why do I like hot sauce on everything?” It could be that you have a high sensitivity to rewards. When our bodies sense pain, like our tongues burning, neurotransmitters send a signal to the brain and when capsaicin is responsible for the pain signal (substance P) the brain responds by releasing endorphins and dopamine. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain reliever and dopamine produces a sense of reward and pleasure. This is why some people describe eating hot sauce as a “rush” and people who are sensitive to rewards (the rush) keep coming back for more.
This “rush”, however, is only one answer to the questions “why is spicy food so addictive?” and “why is hot sauce so addictive?” It’s quite simple, really. Part of the reason we can’t get enough of hot sauce is due to desensitization and tolerance building. The more you eat hot sauce, the more accustomed you become to it and subsequently, the more you crave it. This is why people from countries that traditionally consume and grow chillies are more likely to enjoy the hottest varieties of chilli. Thankfully, this means that if you don’t typically enjoy hot sauce, you can train yourself to join the movement.
According to Chef Bill Phillips, a spicy food expert and associate at the Culinary Institute of America, starting “low and slow” by incorporating mild peppers is the best way to work your way up the spice ladder. A sauce like our Southern Braai BBQ sauce is a great place to start because its flavor packed with only a mild zing. You could also ease into it by trying our Habanasco Spicy Brownies recipe. It may sound like a surprising combination but the chocolate masks the intensity of the heat while the hot sauce cuts through the richness.
Loving Hot Sauce and Genetics
In addition, scientists have also speculated that liking hot sauce may have something to do with the nature part of your personality—your genes. Unlike with cilantro, there is no spice-loving or spice-hating gene but tolerance to spice can be inherited. Dave Dewitt, a chilli historian, says to think of it as an allergy. Just as some people find pollen an irritant, some people are more susceptible to capsaicin as an irritant. This explains why some of your friends seem to chug the hot sauce bottle while others only need a tiny drop to get their fix.
Gender also plays an interesting role in our love for hot sauce. Although gender does not make you more or less likely to call yourself a chilli-head, it does dictate why you might. According to a study in Food Quality and Preference, women tend to like spicy food for intrinsic purposes like the stinging sensation and flavor. Men, on the other hand, are more drawn to spicy food for extrinsic factors like machismo and bravado. This plays into the idea that strong men can handle spice. That being said, despite the science, when it comes to hot sauce, nurture beats nature every time. Exposure, be it cultural or social, is still the greatest determinant of whether someone indulges their spicy personality.
Basically, your love of hot sauce could come down to your natural thrill-seeking proclivities, your sensitivity to reward, your genetics, or your culture and none of it really matters. All that matters is that you’re on the hot sauce train and you’re not getting off anytime soon.