Woman eating spicy food

At Pepper Jelly, we don’t just like spicy food; we love it!

That shouldn’t be a surprise. How else could we spend all day, every day, mixing, making, and best of alltastingour eight different varieties and 20+ flavor combinations ofpepper jelly dip?

Not everyone appreciates the heat of jalapenos, habaneros, and chipotles, though. Those people tend to wonder how we can possibly enjoy that tongue-tingling sensation, while people like us tend to wonder how theydon’t.

We could just chalk it up to “personal preference” and call it a day, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, we decided to talk to the experts to find out why some people love spicy food… and some don’t.

The Science of Spice

To understand why some people like spicy food, it helps to know why some foods are spicy in the first place. Simply put, it’s an evolutionary advantage, a defense mechanism that exists to discourage animals from eating certain plants. That’s why much of the capsaicin in peppers is concentrated in their seeds, in order to better protect them.

In other words, we’re not supposed to like spicy food. The taste is supposed to scare us off. So why do we eat peppers anyway?

Again, one answer could be evolution. The countries where spicy food has the longest culinary tradition—Thailand, India, Mexico, etc.—tend to be countries with hotter climates. To prevent food from spoiling in the heat, pepper and other spices acted as preservatives, killing harmful bacteria. The people in such regions adapted to enjoy spicy food as a result.

“It develops over time,” Sprout and Press founder Nikita Gupta says, pointing out that capsaicin, the chemical irritant in chili chiefly responsible for the burning sensation they produce, actually reduces certain neurotransmitters in the body. Those neurotransmitters send pain signals to the brain, which means that the more spicy food you eat, the less you’ll “feel the burn.”

A Heritage of Heat

Of course, an appetite for spicy food is as much a product of nurture as it is a product of nature. Evolutionary preferences have become cherished cultural traditions. Today, many of us don’t need to coat our food in peppery seasonings to keep it from spoiling, yet we continue to do so anyway. Why? Because it’s our heritage.

“The type of foods that you were introduced to when being brought up may influence the kind of foods you like (now),” Dr. Daniel Boyer, of the Farr Institute, says, noting that if you were raised in a community or environment where spicy food was considered the “norm,” you likely wouldn’t even question the idea of “spicy” being synonymous with “tasty.” Such conditioning begins even earlier than many of us realize.

“Scientific research proves that foods your mom was consuming while she was pregnant and breastfeeding tend to affect what kind of foods you prefer,” Boyer says.

That said, people are always learning, growing, and changing. As the world becomes a more multicultural and interconnected place, regional heritages are being discovered by people all over the world. You don’t need to come from a place where peppers are native to fall in love with spicy food. All you need is a willingness to try new things.

An Appetite for Adventure

What kind of person willingly tries something they know will be, on some level at least, unpleasant? For Gupta, this impulse is not one she associates with masochism, but with curiosity and adventurousness. 

“A preference for spicy foods is often indicative of certain personality traits,” she explains, adding that studies have found a correlation between people who have thrill-seeking personalities alsand those who enjoy spicy foods.

Gupta likens the appeal of eating peppery dishes to the adrenaline rush of roller coasters, scary movies, and extreme sports. All these activities represent “safe dangers,” giving those who enjoy them a taste of risk, but in a controlled environment where the actual chance of something going wrong or having long-term consequences is minimal.

That feeling isn’t necessarily something everyone enjoys, but, for some, the upside of potentially discovering something new, exciting, and pleasurable far outweighs the downside of momentary discomfort or disgust.

Pepper Jelly Pleases All Palates

As much as we love spicy food, at Pepper Jelly we know that not everyone wants to set fire to their taste buds. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy our delicious line of products nevertheless. 

Whether you crave the burn of our Habanero Pepper Jelly or you prefer something mild and sweet like our Pomegranate Pepper Jelly, we cater to all tastes. Take a chance. Go on an adventure. Try Pepper Jelly today!