Hot chilli peppers have become incredibly popular as of late.
They’ve always been considered culinary delicacies. They originate from South America - contrary to most people’s belief. A lot of people think chilli peppers came from Asia or India, since a lot of cuisine from those areas feature chilli peppers.
Chilli peppers originated in South America where the people would eat them to cool down. You may find that strange - why eat something that makes you sweat, when you’re hot?
The body’s natural reaction to overheating is to produce sweat. Sweat cools you down. If you live in a hot climate, eating a chilli pepper can induce sweating without the exertion that normally precedes perspiration. People can chomp down on a chilli pepper on a hot day, and the sweat that will soon be pouring down their face will eventually cool them down.
So - why do chilli peppers make you sweat?
There’s one particular compound in chilli peppers that’s responsible for making you sweat - along with most of its medicinal benefits. That compound is capsaicin.
Capsaicin stimulates nerves in a similar way to being burned. It sends a signal to your brain that informs it that you’re being burned, and in response, you feel the sensation. Some people enjoy it, some people don’t. Either way, your brain thinks you’re overheating and sends out the regular responses - one of which is making your body sweat.
Is this why people flush when they eat chilli peppers?
Yes. The response signal also tells your brain to dilate your blood vessels. The dilated blood allows warm blood to flow more freely, releasing heat. This relaxed blood flow also causes the skin to flush, making it appear red and patchy. Flushing is great if you’re eating chilli peppers near the equator, or in a hot environment. It might not be the most attractive thing for someone eating a spicy meal in a restaurant, though.
Capsaicin basically sends two signals to your brain. It imitates the sensation of warmth, and it provides an intense sensation. The combination of the two feelings tells your brain that it’s “intensely warm,” or, in more sensible terms, hot. The natural reaction to excessive heat is to produce sweat and flushing.
Neutralizing the effect of capsaicin
Capsaicin is not water soluble. This is why people who chug water after eating a spicy meal find minimal relief. It is, however, fat soluble and alcohol soluble.
Drinking milk or alcohol after eating something spicy and remove the capsaicin from your tongue. This will prevent the substance from sending signals to your brain - and prevent your body from reacting as if you’re overheating. Milk also has a compound - casein - which is particularly effective at disabling the effects of capsaicin.
Capsaicin is a very powerful compound. It has many uses, spanning from medicinal to culinary. It’s particularly effective in the locales that peppers grow in - South America, India, and Asia. These regions are typically very hot. Residents of these areas can soothe themselves by eating hot chilli peppers, which will stimulate the production of sweat and ultimately cool their bodies down.
People don’t have receptors specifically developed to respond to capsaicin. Instead, capsaicin triggers certain receptors that we already have - those that receive signals regarding heat and pain. Capsaicin imitates the feeling of an intense burn, but it doesn’t actually do any lasting damage. In fact, it offers quite a few medicinal benefits - one reason why people in tropical climates don’t succumb as frequently to common illnesses as the rest of the world.
So, if you feel like sweating (as part of the experiment, of course), why not try some of our hottest chilli sauces?