How to Teach Yourself to Love Spicy Food, One Bite at a Time
Do you love spicy flavors but can't take the heat? Don't despair! You can train your body to handle the burn of hot foods. Keep at it, and before long, you'll be downing hot sauce like a natural.
If you love spice, then you're familiar with capsaicin, the chemical component of chilis that makes your tongue burn. The capsaicin molecule activates a particular neural receptor in our bodies (called TRPV1) that sends info to our brains. TRPV1 is also activated by high temperature and specializes in telling our brains, "ouch! This is too hot!" That's why eating chilis "burns" your mouth. Your brain is getting the same type of signal that it would if you took a sip of too-hot coffee.
Different people can have vastly different tolerances for the "heat" of chilis. Part of this can be a natural inclination, but a larger factor is repeated exposure. Your TRPV1 receptors adapt to the amount of capsaicin they regularly encounter. This is why people who grow up eating spicy foods usually have a much higher tolerance for spice than those who don't. Their bodies have adapted to high amounts of capsaicin, so it doesn't feel as hot.
The key to enjoying hotter foods is to gradually build up your tolerance. It can't be done overnight, but it also doesn't take a lifetime. If you work slowly and consistently, you'll likely start enjoying hotter flavors within a few weeks. Here are a few pointers to speed up your progress.
1) Start Off Mild
Don't swallow a spoonful of XXXtra Hot Sauce right off the bat. Pick a milder sauce and start small. Mild-to-medium-heat sauces are still really big on flavor, so this can give you a chance to savor the taste without being overwhelmed by the heat.
Mix a few drops into your meal and see how it goes. You can always add more, but you can't take it out.
2) Eat Slowly
Chili heat is the type of fire that builds slowly as your tongue comes into contact with more and more capsaicin with each bite. However, the cumulative effect usually only lasts a few minutes. This means that spreading out the time between bites can make a food subjectively less hot.
This is actually one of the ways that hot sauce can help with weight loss. Eating more slowly not only keeps the burn from building as fast but also gives your brain a chance to register satiety, so you don't eat quite as much during your meal.
This is a practical tip to help you still enjoy your meal if you discover it's a bit hotter than you wanted.
3) Keep Coolant Close
Knowing you can quickly douse the fire in your mouth can be really encouraging when you're trying to push your personal heat limits. It can also save you if you get a bite that's too hot. Chili oils are not water-soluble. This means that cold water won't wash them away. It might feel good while it's sitting on your tongue, but once you swallow, you're back where you started.
Dairy is your new best friend. Milk, yogurt, and other creamy liquids will dissolve the capsaicin and carry it away. Yogurt drinks, like Indian lassi, can be great for this. Cooling dairy dips like tzatziki are another helpful option. The fats in avocado are useful as well, so guacamole and sour cream are great to have as part of a spicy Mexican meal.
4) Repeated Exposure
As with any kind of training, consistency is everything. Your TRPV1 receptors adapt to the amount of capsaicin that they regularly encounter. Tasting one drop of hot sauce a day over seven days will get you further than seven drops once a week.
To build up your adaptation and start enjoying hotter sauces, try to incorporate extra spice into several meals a week. For tangible progress, spice these meals enough that you notice the heat. If a few are in the hotter part of your current tolerance, that's great, but don't go over the top. Pushing too hard will just ruin your dinner. Remember, the point is to expand your palate so you can ENJOY hot sauce more.
The world is full of delicious spicy foods and flavorful hot sauces. Whether you were born with a taste for fire or prefer the milder side, consistently practicing these tips will open up new degrees for you to enjoy. Impressing your mates with your new iron constitution is just a bonus. Have fun!
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