This thing that we like spicy is something that only happens to human beings. The rest of mammals have a real aversion to spicy food.

One of the most intriguing paradoxes of latin gastronomy is that… if Christopher Columbus‘s three caravels launched into the Atlantic heading west -precisely- to find spices, why didn’t they bring hot spices from the New World

“There is also a lot of axí, which is her pepper, which is worth more than pepper , and all the people do not eat without it, as they find it very healthy; Fifty caravels a year can be loaded in that Hispaniola”, read a letter from the admiral dated January 15, 1493, referring to the peppers consumed by the Tainos on the island of Hispaniola.The arrival of Christopher Columbus to America led to a transformation in the diet of the entire worldThe arrival of Christopher Columbus in America led to a transformation in the diet of the entire world.

Núria Bàguera, a historian specializing in gastronomy, explained that “at that time, spices began to be considered out of fashion throughout Europe. The world changed and so did the kitchen”… which is why its economic interest would begin to be lost.

Another idea that can also help explain why these hot peppers did not find a good reception in gastronomy , is the one maintained by the gastronomy historian Esther Katz in her book Chili Pepper: From Mexico to Europe: “The peppers crossed the Atlantic from Mexico to Europe, but not with the womens who possessed the culinary knowledge to prepare them”… Hence, all their potential was lost in the casseroles.

Whatever the reason behind this obvious deficiency in our traditional recipes, doing without the many varieties of chili or hot pepper so widely used and celebrated by Mesoamerican cultures was a missed opportunity . Because few things are capable of “hooking” as much as spicy:Spicy foods lower cholesterol, prevent obesity and improve blood flowSpicy foods lower cholesterol, prevent obesity and improve blood flow

Is it just masochism… or is there another more complex reason?

Reactions to heat can range from mild tingling and itching on the tongue… to fainting (literally); going through crying, nausea, stomach irritation, etc. At first glance, that there are people who enjoy spiciness so much does not make any sense … or at least it is counterintuitive. It is as if there was a kind of masochistic fetish in which a considerable part of the population participates.

The truth is that we like spicy is something that only happens to human beings. Animals have a real aversion to spicy food… and only those who -for evolutionary reasons- have lost their ability to perceive capsaicin (a molecular compound that activates pain sensors on the tongue) can tolerate it. This means that either there is something that works differently in our brain (in terms of pain perception) compared to other animals, or that it is an acquired taste, which also could explain the cultural difference in this regard.Carolina Reaper, the hottest pepper in the world |  Source: Wikipedia CommonsCarolina Reaper, the hottest pepper in the world.

There are several theories that could explain why humans developed this taste for pain. One of them delves into this idea of ​​”acquired taste.” This hypothesis refers to a report published in the Quarterly Review of Biology, which examined gastronomic recipes from around the world, to study the distribution of spiciness depending on the country.

In the conclusions of that study, it is pointed out that it is in those warmer countries… and where it is easier for meat to spoil . .. where hot spices are most often used. In other words, according to this theory, the fact that spicy foods are capable of killing most of the bacteria that affect meat could explain why in countries like Mexico or India, the palate had to adapt to them… and why now spicy is something so inseparable from their gastronomy.

Another theory holds that it is because it makes us feel alive ; that like bungee jumping, horror movies, or roller coasters, spicy food is nothing more than “limited risk” or “benign masochism ,” in the words of Dr. Paul Rozin, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania .

“Humans and only humans enjoy events that are innately negative , that produce emotions or feelings that we are programmed to avoid when we realize that they are not really threats, Rozin explained in a statement to The New York Times. Mind over body. My body thinks I’m in trouble, but I know I’m not.”Padrón peppers are one of the most recognizable spicy foods in our gastronomy |  Source: Tim Reckman

peppers are one of the most recognizable spicy foods in the gastronomy.

The truth is that these two theories are not mutually exclusive … and both could explain our fondness for spiciness. It is possible that health has made culture… and that culture has generated taste afterwards. That it is precisely this stimulus to the perception of pain that has given the spiciness its strength and emotion .

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