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Why Your Brain Thinks Your Tongue is On Fire When You Eat Spicy Food

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Ever wonder why spicy foods are so darn hot, and why you can’t stop eating them?  This video from Ruth Eveleth and Ted-Ed, which is chock full of hot (heh) food facts, will reveal everything you wanted to know about spicy food.

It turns out that when you eat something spicy, the compounds in the food activates sensors called polymodal nociceptors.  These sensors exist all over your body, and they’re used to determine whether we’re hot or cold.  So, when they’re activated on your tongue, your brain thinks you’re actually burning — which is why most people start sweating and their hearts begin to pound.  The same “flight or fight” response you’d experience facing a 4 am fire alarm is coursing through your body.

There are also different compounds for different kinds of spice. Chili and black pepper contain alkylamides which stay in your mouth, while mustard and wasabi have isothiocyanates which travel straight into your sinuses. That’s why your nose burns after eating wasabi, but your mouth burns from Tabasco.

For more fun facts on the hottest peppers (the Trinidad Moruga and the Carolina reaper), the history of spices, and how to build up your tolerance, check out the full video below.

By Nora Landis-Shack

Nora Landis-Shack was born to be a foodie. With a classically trained French chef for a father, she’s been exploring new tastes since she was big enough to help chop vegetables for dinner. Pig’s feet, frog’s legs, and tripe are delicious child’s play. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t love a great steak. Because she does. With frites, please.

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