by Ben Miller
I don’t usually turn to the Economist for my food writing, but this piece from their its year-end issue caught my eye. It explains why humans are the only animal that eats chilis and other hot foods and the medical benefits of the chemical that makes peppers spicy.
According to the article, one reason why chilis may have become especially popular in poorer countries is that eating them can trigger a nerve response that can enhance the flavor of other foods. This could help make a bland diet taste better and improve nutrition. This has little benefit for animals that are foraging for food, but could aid humans hamstrung by their local agriculture.
The article also describes how eating capsaicin can also serve as a form of narcotic. In one sense, eating hot peppers can be unpleasant–it makes mouths and lips literally feel like they are on fire. But then endorphins kick in, leading to a pleasurable sense of relief–an actual high from habaneros. This endorphin release also has benefits beyond the college student sector though, as providing a capsaicin product can help reduce the pain from arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and other types of diseases.
But let’s be honest. All these benefits are great, but I like eating chili peppers because I love spicy food. The article doesn’t let this sect down either–it mentions the Dorset naga, a chili that makes habaneros seem bland. They can currently be found at the British chain Tesco, though the article doesn’t say where in the U.S. they could be located. Any ideas commenters? I’m ready for a chili high.
Image used under a Creative Commons license by flickr user Muffet