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Socially Acceptable Masochism (NOM NOM NOM)

An amusing article on chili peppers and why people like them:

The Pleasure Is In the Pain (yes, they actually had the balls to call the article that. WE APPROVE.)

Everyone who loves [chili peppers] knows exactly why they are so popular. When we chili-heads try to explain the appeal to non-chili lovers, we talk about the different flavors of different peppers: sweet, spicy, aromatic and tangy. And it's true that there are subtle and not-so-subtle differences. But saying that is our only reason for liking them is akin to saying we drink whisky, cognac or Calvados solely for the taste.

What sets chilis apart from all other foods is the high concentration of capsaicin and related compounds. While the alcohol in liquor is a central nervous system depressant that intoxicates us, capsaicin reacts with the body's pain receptors and tells us that we have been burned. The result is that we feel pain. It could be the light tingling when our taste buds and pain receptors are triggered by a tiny amount of chili sauce on a sandwich; it could be the breathless shock of a bite into a habanero chili, one of the stronger varieties on the market.

From the plant's perspective, capsaicin is a defense against predators, a way to avoid being eaten (at least by mammals; birds don't feel the heat and help spread the seeds). So why do we eat it? Why willingly ingest something that we know will bring us pain, a sensation we normally try to avoid? Why are more than 2 billion people seemingly hooked on this culinary self-torture?

....To chef Rochelle Schaetzl, research and development director for the South Africa-based chicken chain Nando's Peri-Peri (which spells the chili name by one of its variations), the appeal is all about the rush.

"Chili pepper eaters have a tendency to push themselves," said Schaetzl, author of "Pain & Pleasure: Peri Peri, the Contrasts and Contradictions of the African Bird's Eye Chilli" (Gwynne Conlyn Publishing, 2008). "It is not just the pain. I don't think you specifically aim for the pain. I think it is rather all the good things that happen afterwards. Among other things, eating chili peppers makes the body release endorphins."

Endorphins, natural morphine-like compounds released in response to pain, are just about the strongest drugs you can do without doing drugs. And they are in many ways a wonder drug, because they don't create an addiction (even though chili-heads and other thrill-seekers might argue with that), incapacitate you or dull your senses. Researchers say the release of endorphins probably is responsible for "runner's high" and for the rush and pain-suppressing qualities that make it possible for someone who has been in an accident to muster the strength to escape a dangerous situation.

Admittedly, though, there are other reasons:

Vincenzo Di Marzo, a research director at the Institute of Biomolecular Chemistry of the Italian National Research Council near Naples, Italy, said there are three main reasons we voluntarily eat capsaicin. The first is that it makes other tastes come alive. "Heat, and the sensation of heat, activates capsaicin-sensitive sensory neurons that enhance our perception of flavors," he said.

But:

"The second reason is that some people like hot food for its own sake. The right dose of chili is not so painful. And after all, a little bit of pain enhances pleasure, even in non-masochistic people. But lastly, there are also therapeutic properties to chili."

Di Marzo's research has linked activation of the pain receptor to the release of a very important neurotransmitter that affects memory, mood and motor behavior, among other things. In other words, he says, eating chilis might help us increase our sense of well-being and make us more alert and agile. No wonder the body craves them.

It has always fascinated me how people with the most strenuous moral and personal objections to sexual sadomasochism are perfectly willing to chow down on jalapeño anything.

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Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
fierceawakening
Feb. 19th, 2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
Wimp.

I want a habanero now. ;)
(Deleted comment)
fierceawakening
Feb. 19th, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)
You win.

I was gonna add some "I blame the patriarchy" statement at the end of this post, but I've been posting so damn much about that silly nonsense... heh.
etana
Feb. 19th, 2009 06:18 pm (UTC)
I love this article....and I agree with it to a degree....!!
ibnfirnas
Feb. 19th, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
I have no illusions about my love affair with hot chiles.

Bring the paaaiiiin.
fierceawakening
Feb. 19th, 2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
hahahaha. yep.
radicalyffe
Feb. 19th, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
Chilli related musings
1. I do remember seeing a documentary when I was a kid about how people that love chilli are socially dysfunctional, and subconsciously punishing themselves for their social failures.

2. My mother loved chilli. She used to chop up whole chillies and put them on *anything*, usually with no other flavourings. That left me with a distinct dislike for excessive chilli myself... although what I consider 'just right' is usually other peoples 'OMFG MY TASTEBUDS ARE GONE! CLEAR BURNED OFF! ARGGGH'

3. I saw a tip on a lesbian forum involving chopping up a raw chilli, rinsing but not washing your hands, and then masturbating for extra tingle.


fierceawakening
Feb. 19th, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC)
Re: Chilli related musings
1. I do remember seeing a documentary when I was a kid about how people that love chilli are socially dysfunctional, and subconsciously punishing themselves for their social failures.

O.o

???

o.O
radicalyffe
Feb. 19th, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC)
Re: Chilli related musings
I KNOW RIGHT!!!!???
miz_evolution
Feb. 19th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
psst, you comment over there linking the chili pepper wisdom? WIN. oh, just FULL of WIN!
fierceawakening
Feb. 19th, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC)
:D
imaginary_pets
Feb. 19th, 2009 11:20 pm (UTC)
I like eating chili peppers while wearing a scotch bonnet... :)
alexandraerin
Feb. 21st, 2009 01:33 am (UTC)
It has always fascinated me how people with the most strenuous moral and personal objections to sexual sadomasochism are perfectly willing to chow down on jalapeño anything.

You should retitle the pro-SM blog "Let Them Eat Chili Peppers" for a week. :P
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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fierceawakening
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