Whether you’re adding a few drops of sriracha to your meal, progressing through the scoville scale on wing night, or embarking on a spicy rite of passage with the widely-revered Carolina Reaper pepper, there’s just something about spicy foods that seems to hit differently.
If you’ve ever experienced a spice-induced rush of exhilaration followed by a feeling of ecstasy or elation, you’ve likely wondered why that is. And while spicy foods have always seemed to have a certain mythos attached to them, the answer is actually rooted in science.
Certain foods, like chili peppers, contain a substance called capsaicin, which causes the nerve receptors in our mouths to believe that they are literally on fire. In response to the perceived emergency, our brains proceed to release endorphins en masse.
So, although hot sauce isn’t chemically addictive in the same way as caffeine or nicotine, we can become addicted to reliving the rush that comes with eating spicier and spicer foods.