Thursday, February 27, 2014

Baby You can Light My Fire

Is it Chili in here or is it just me?

Imagine that there’s an early hominid wandering through a forest.  It’s a nice day.  He’s been hunting, but hasn’t found anything for dinner just yet. He looks and sees a small plant with a number of dangling red fruit-y things.  They’re not as long as his finger, and the’re about that big around. He’s seen things like it before, but never this exact thing.  Other fruit-y things He’d eaten have tasted really good, kinda sweet, sometimes with a bit of tang.  So, he pulls a few off.  They feel lighter than most fruits, as if they were hollow.  Still, he lifts one up to his mouth and takes a bite.

Immediately his mouth floods with pain, as if it were on fire.  His eyes tear and his face feels flush and hot.  All he can think of is getting something to cool down the burning on his tongue.  He sees a stream nearby and rush to it, cupping the precious cool water in his hands.  Each drink cools the heat and calms the pain, but only for a moment, so he drinks more and more.

Finally, he stops, because it just isn’t helping.  But it’s not long before the pain begins to subside, and he shakes his head and walks away, a valuable lesson learned.

Today, of course, we know of the evolutionary value of a defense mechanism like this. If everyone that tries to eat you ends up screaming in pain, you don’t get eaten very often. Your species lives and reproduces.

But that only works if the predators are smart.  And, we’re dealing with humans, here, or the ancestors of them. Humans are not known for taking lessons well. See, because somewhere along the evolutionary line, one of our great-great-great-great-etc grandparents actually went BACK to that burning bush and ate those peppers A SECOND TIME.

Maybe he just gave them to a friend so he could laugh as the victim of his prank danced and guzzled like he had done the first time. But, no matter, at some point someone decided that this burning blaze on his tongue, this firey feeling was a good thing.

And that’s why, today, we have hot sauce.

The other day, I saw this video that explains why 1) peppers burn our mouths, and 2) why it feels so good afterward.  It’s a fascinating video and article, and in summary it says that the capsaicin molecules in the peppers (which actually cause the heat) react with the nerve receptors on our tongues and fool them into reacting as if they’d actually touched something physically scalding hot.  Our minds actually think that our tongue is scalding.

The reason water doesn’t help is that the capsaicin is an oil, so the water doesn’t wash it off.  It only temporarily tells the tongue nerve receptors that they’re cool.  Then, when the water’s gone and swallowed, the heat comes back because the capsaicin is still there.

That heat and pain also automatically trigger our body's responce, which is: pain relief!  Endorphins!  That's why after, you feel flush and excited.  In fact a few pain creams and ointments utilize capsaicin to trigger the body's natural pain relievers, topically.

It’s interesting to note that, according to the article, the menthol in mint and mint candies work the opposite way, fooling your tongue into thinking it’s touching something cool.

Wow.  Knowledge is cool.

...Or is it hot?

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

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