Sear Your Tastebuds on this FPP
June 4, 2013 11:36 PM   Subscribe

"The chili pepper does not want to be your friend. It wants to hurt you so badly you turn it loose," writes Mary Roach.

Want to know more?

Check out the visual guide to peppers, learn the Scoville Scale for pepper heat, and consider What's So Hot About Peppers. If you've got the stomach for pepper humor, weighs in, and for the even more bizarre, GloZell takes the Hot Pepper Challenge.[warning: Jackass-style pepper-eating].
posted by MoonOrb (27 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

If you like spicy food, you want some of this magical paste in your life.

Roach's description of the pepper's taste is spot-on: "a gorgeous vibrating chord of lemon, cut grass and florals". It reminds me of something from the past...

An ex used to chide me for eating spicy food. "Why do you like stuff to be so hot?" she'd always ask. It isn't because I want to pass out or because I'm a total dude, no. It's because the heat allows me to perceive the food differently. At the right levels, spice brings out the best of a food's natural qualities. That also goes for the world's most intense peppers and spices. Fruits taste better with a hint of red pepper, chocolate tastes sweeter etc... of course it doesn't work for everything, but when it does, it is glorious.
posted by raihan_ at 12:03 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have an addicting personality and Frank's Red Hot provided by my mother who also liked a little heat was my gateway drug to a lifetime of hot-pepper debauchery culminating in trying the spiciest offerings available anywhere, any time. Thai restaurants usually don't trust me at first when I ask for "Thai hot, no really, 10/10, as hot as you can make it." It's kind of annoying actually, and I thought it was ridiculous and culturally naive in the first article when Bryant passive aggressively says that people are more likely to eat hot peppers to impress others than simply out of enjoyment, with the weaselly sentence "I don’t know how many people eat hot peppers in isolation."

I don't get the hand-waving and ignorance at all, but it's a reminder that scientists are often highly specialized and he might know everything there is to know about how the chemistry works (or not, I haven't checked his credentials) but shouldn't really even comment on the other stuff as he sounds like a buffoon -- he doesn't believe that people enjoy hot peppers for their own sake, and it doesn't occur to him that people who enjoy hotter and hotter peppers, who push their "receptor load" to the brink might be getting a buzz from endorphins or other neurotransmitters released in reaction to the pain response? Perhaps even an emotional connection that ties them to every other spicy meal?

Here's a good website with a short blurb on the neurobiochemistry or whatever we call that thing that I ran into while fact-checking the "it destroys receptors! devastation of the mouth!" reefer-madness like sensationalism and yes, that's a thing that happens, but mine seem to grow back pretty damned fast if I stop hitting the Sriracha every day, and I'm not too worried about running out of my capacity to feel the pain of capsaicin exposure. I can handle habeñeros but couldn't imagine needing more than say, 350,000 Scoville units to get off ever in my lifetime. And yes, I crave it and look for an excuse to put it on anything, as does my wife. "Hmm, is this chicken too fancy for Sriracha? I THINK NOT"
posted by lordaych at 12:18 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

To clarify, Sriracha is comparatively low in heat compared to the heavy-hitters that are pretty much cartoonishly hot or diluted like the myriad "habañero" sauces mostly loaded with pureed fruits and veggies; Sriracha is my daily buzz, and I minimize the experimentation with super-escalating heat levels the same way I minimize binge drinking. Thai and Indian food have never been "too much" so far but I haven't been to Thailand or India.

For me the killers are extremely hot Mexican food (well, green chile stew or sauce, not sure how authentic it is) and Jackass-hot wings. There is a certain point where it's too much to handle on the way out no matter how much you can handle the intake, and you basically may end up being hung-over and wanting to call in sick from work because your guts have been busted, busted I say, by "911 Hot Wings" (I can't believe some places still use "911" to describe their hottest wings, but am not aghast either) or the hottest-Satanic-dynamite-green-chile-stew ever conceived. Thai and Indian foods seem to be so well spiced and balanced and lovingly fatted-up that the deadly heat never seems to punish me later.
posted by lordaych at 12:27 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

One last comment: I'm not into S&M but I do enjoy the throbbing pain from peppers and have caught myself whipping my back with a random cord or coat hanger or whatever painful object I may be walking around with when nobody's looking. So there's that, but I think that experiencing the pain, associating it with something you enjoy, and knowing that it's not really hurting you in any meaningful way can translate into an experience where you just overall enjoy the whole process, probably due to a combination of various factors including endorphin release. See, it's actually pretty easy for people to [operant-?] condition themselves to enjoy unpleasant experiences if they know they probably won't be hurt and there's a fun thing coming afterward. Like people who say they don't really start tripping from mushrooms until they puke -- I've never puked but understand the urge, and why some people simply couldn't enjoy any aspect of the trip as it mounted until they got rid of the source of nausea. I've gagged down kratom powder using the "toss 'n wash" method so many times that I eventually developed a revulsion to it and puked it up instantly on more than one occasion only to gag some more down. Mind you I'm not addicted to it, but don't mind ralphing if I know there's a buzzy nod fest coming up, any more than I mind chewing up a caffeine pill knowing it will hit me that much faster.

posted by lordaych at 12:32 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by radwolf76 at 12:55 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Chili peppers want birds to be their friends, as they disperse the seeds. Birds, as opposed to most mammals, are unaffected by Capsicum.
posted by guy72277 at 1:25 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I dunno, I was a little disappointed with that piece. Where's Roach's hilarious anecdotes and blow-by-blow description of the trauma visited on the colon, as it happens?
posted by smoke at 1:33 AM on June 5, 2013

Just looking at those peppers made me hungry. Bring it on.
posted by Malice at 2:07 AM on June 5, 2013

There's neat Capsaicin ... and then there's Resiniferatoxin. 16 billion Scoville heat units. And Tinyatoxin. We're out of spice and into neurotoxin territory here.

But for those of you craving the aftermath, and a photo-documentary, here's an immortal blog post: The Day My Arse Died.
posted by cstross at 3:55 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

"The chili pepper does not want to be your friend. It wants to hurt you so badly you turn it loose," writes Mary Roach.

She's got that right.
posted by Melismata at 4:03 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm OK with regular eating, I'll leave the stunt eating to others. It's interesting to hear about it though.
posted by thelonius at 4:17 AM on June 5, 2013

That was a great read. Thank you for sharing it.
posted by Andrew Galarneau at 5:23 AM on June 5, 2013

I had a miserable, week-long bout of agita recently, enough that it scared me off of spicy foods for a bit. What a terrible way to eat. The blooming of even relatively mild heat adds a dimension to so many foods that you really can't get any other way.

The first taste of Cholula after the drought was just about sublime.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:26 AM on June 5, 2013

Stuff Geeks Love: Hot Food
posted by Legomancer at 5:51 AM on June 5, 2013

I live in MA and we have a three year old ghost pepper, the Bhut Jolokia, (aka DEATH IN CHILI FORM aka if you put the remains in the garbage disposal it is now WEAPONIZED DEATH and you better get the fuck out of the kitchen) that gets dug up out of the garden in the fall, overwinters in our house, and gets planted back outside in the spring. It produces gallons upon gallons upon gallons of essentially dragonfire in a pepper.

We give them away to local restaurants because there is no way in hell we can use even close to all of them, including canning some outstanding red pepper jellies, making super chili, and just daring our friends to eat one.
posted by lydhre at 6:56 AM on June 5, 2013

I've always seen chilli peppers as a condiment added to enhance the main dish. It is time to back off when the heat becomes overpowering enough to mask it. I've been to some Indian/Pak restaurants where everything pretty much tastes the same - be it potatoes, eggplant or even zucchini ...they all taste like burning.
posted by asra at 7:30 AM on June 5, 2013

> they all taste like burning

Eliding over the sad injustice you're doing to the myriad flavor variants of chilis, the burning itself is, if not such much a flavor, then it's own unique gustatory sensation. I'm not trying to change your mind, since talking about capsicum is basically the oral equivalent of declawed cats riding bikes on the Israel-Palestine border. Just pointing out that for some, the heat isn't masking anything.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:47 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you like spicy food, you want some of this magical paste in your life.

Does anybody know where this ( nicobena super hot hot pickle paste) can be purchased online? I'm currently getting friends to import Mr. Naga from the UK but I would love a more reliable source.

(I miss the Naga Lamb at Grameen Khana in Birmingham's Balti Triangle maybe more than anything else from England. My friends can visit but the curry can't! ).
posted by srboisvert at 8:10 AM on June 5, 2013

I've never come across anything that was unbearable and I couldn't finish. Even when extremely hot and I tear up, I still eat it (go endorphins!). I regularly pour ghost pepper sauce (admittedly Dave's brand) on fried potatoes. This inspired me to buy Bhut Jolokia and Trinidad Scorpion seeds, in an attempt to grow my own deathfruits.
posted by polywomp at 8:57 AM on June 5, 2013

The other day I (Asian) was eating Chipotle burritos with a friend (white) at her house.

I asked her where she kept the hot sauce and she told me there was no hot sauce in the house. No Sriracha, no Tabasco, no jar of chili oil, nothing. I could not comprehend how they lived.

Anecdotally, race is important because all of the spicy-phobic people I know are white.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 9:22 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

From Turkey's English-language newspaper:

"...the active component of chili peppers, now the unintended “new” flavoring of a great number of Istanbul’s residents. Turkish cuisine, especially the regional cookery of southeastern provinces makes abundant use of red hot chili peppers enjoying them enormously, but this latest brutal use of pepper gas –also known as tear gas – was no joy at all, and left a very bitter taste in the palate of Istanbul residents and visitors. "
posted by vasi at 9:22 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've had the experience of having the taste of other foods dulled up to a day after eating really hot food, and I think this stuff could be killing taste bud cells and leaving people with long-term (yet hopefully not permanent) deficits in their ability to taste all foods:
The American Association for Cancer Research reports studies suggesting capsaicin is able to kill prostate cancer and lung cancer cells by causing them to undergo apoptosis.[34][35] The studies were performed on tumors formed by human prostate cancer cell cultures grown in mouse models, and showed tumors treated with capsaicin were about one-fifth the size of the untreated tumors. There have been several mouse studies conducted in Japan and China that showed natural capsaicin directly inhibits the growth of leukemic cells.[36] Capsaicin may be able to trigger apoptosis in human lung cancer cells as well.[37]
Capsaicin is also the key ingredient in the experimental drug Adlea, which is in Phase 2 trials as a long-acting analgesic to treat post-surgical and osteoarthritic pain for weeks to months after a single injection to the site of pain.[38] Moreover, it reduces pain resulting from rheumatoid arthritis[39] as well as joint or muscle pain from fibromyalgia or other causes.
Making it the perfect condiment for an age of highly processed and almost totally blandified industrial food, of course.
posted by jamjam at 9:54 AM on June 5, 2013

Thai restaurants usually don't trust me at first when I ask for "Thai hot, no really, 10/10, as hot as you can make it."

There was a Thai place that I favored that had a great online ordering system. Their food was generally on a scale of 'one pepper' for hot, to 'four pepper' for Thai Super Hot. I'd grown accustomed to ordering Thai in restaurants and having to express that no, really, I did in fact want things Thai hot, despite me being a white guy. So I pick out the Num Prik Oang and put in the order notes 'extra hot please'. It turns out, there's two versions of their menu, and the one I wasn't looking at at the moment showed that the Num Prik Oang was off of their 'traditional' Thai menu, and was rated as *six* peppers normally. And they took me at my word, and cranked it up to eight or nine. It was an astounding amount of heat. I ate it all (slowly) and enjoyed the hell out of it... until that evening, when I spent the entire time in the bathroom wincing and thinking about my life choices. I ended up having to call out of work the next day due to "shitter's fatigue".
posted by FatherDagon at 11:54 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you fed chickens a whole lot of chili peppers, would you end up naturally spicy chicken?
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:30 PM on June 5, 2013

I dunno, I was a little disappointed with that piece. Where's Roach's hilarious anecdotes and blow-by-blow description of the trauma visited on the colon, as it happens?
posted by smoke at 3:33 AM on June 5

In the book, of course.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:31 AM on June 9, 2013

« Older Corporations hijacked the First Amendment   |   Most tragic: Bicycling. Least tragic: Family guy. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments