But he has evidence for what he calls benign masochism. For example, he tested chili eaters by gradually increasing the pain, or, as the pros call it, the pungency, of the food, right up to the point at which the subjects said they just could not go further. When asked after the test what level of heat they liked the best, they chose the highest level they could stand, “just below the level of unbearable pain.” As Delbert McClinton sings (about a different line of research), “It felt so good to hurt so bad.”…
Other mammals have not joined the party. “There is not a single animal that likes hot pepper,” Dr. Rozin said. Or as Paul Bloom, a Yale psychologist, puts it, “Philosophers have often looked for the defining feature of humans — language, rationality, culture and so on. I’d stick with this: Man is the only animal that likes Tabasco sauce.”
Good reading from the Times examining why some peppers are spicy and why we enjoy spicy foods. In short: It’s unclear, and apparently “because they’re good” is not an acceptable explanation.
I like spicy foods a lot myself, definitely toward the spicier end of the normal spectrum — spicy enough that if a food is too spicy for me I get all sanctimonious because food shouldn’t be that spicy and who the hell do you think you are, restaurant serving food I can’t handle?
But that said, I find that I especially like spicy foods seasoned with fresh peppers rather than hot sauce or cayenne powder or whatever. This is a relatively recent discovery made largely because of all the hot peppers I grew this summer — and it could be all in my head — but it seems like they bring a more balanced, flavorful heat rather than just pure burning.
For what it’s worth, one time in college I went to a lauded Buffalo wing place out in Virginia with my roommate Rich and his girlfriend. They had something called The Flatliner on the menu and a plaque on the wall celebrating the names of everyone who had ever managed to eat six. Plus you had to sign a waiver just to try one. Serious stuff.
Rich is a Navy man, ever eager to demonstrate his manhood, and I am innately competitive, so we both ordered a half-dozen Flatliners.
The waiter talked us out of it.
“Don’t even bother,” he said.
We tried to convince him that we could handle them, but he promised us we couldn’t and even said he’d buy the next six if we could finish off the first order between the two of us.
We took one bite each and couldn’t eat anything else we ordered. We wound up stretched out on the bench seats in the back of Rich’s minivan, shivering for the length of the half hour drive home.
Those wings were too spicy.
Also, fun fact about peppers: Anaheim peppers, bell peppers, cayenne peppers, jalapeno peppers and poblano peppers are all the same species, capsicum annuum. Just different breeds, kind of like dogs.
Hat tip to my wife for the link.