I have a problem. I love spicy food. Gimme the Thai, Indian, and TexMex, kicked up to.. well… at least medium. It’s not that I enjoy overwhelming the taste of everything else and weeping while guzzling a gallon of milk while I wait for the heat to subside – I’m not a connoisseur. But I do like a little spice in my life.
The problem is that I don’t just cook for myself, but also but also my partner, Drew, who hates spicy food. He can’t even handle sweet peppers. It’s kinda tragic.
His reasoning is that spicy is pain and who wants to be in pain? It actually does communicate with our nociceptors in a way that tricks our body into thinking it’s a burning sensation or pain. It made me consider the possibility of rampant, socially acceptable masochism. Or perhaps it appeals to the same kind of person who would want to experience jumping out a plane while attached to an expert parachutist with top-of-the-line equipment that minimizes the risk. They want the high, but not the actual danger. Eating spicy food is far less dangerous, but can still give a person that little sense of, “I fucking did it. I am hardcore.”
People in this article were apparently wondering the same things (I thought it was pretty impressive parallel, right down to parachuting).
I can’t help but notice that this guy’s online description is similar to someone describing their experience with a new drug.
Drew does likes ginger though, which I think is totally spicy. He also likes mint and I’m less of a fan, especially when it comes to peppermint (though I do like mint with chocolate), but that’s more of a cold burn. And really, he doesn’t just like these things. He’s pretty obsessed with both (he’ll down a half dozen boxes of Altoids and ginger brews in a day, easily). He also doesn’t like onion, too much black pepper, mustard, or cinnamon candies. But ginger. And mint. This is peculiar so I decided to take a look and see what might be happening in this strange relationship between different types of spice and our relationship with pain. What I found was way more fun than just facts.
“Gingerol, or sometimes -gingerol, is the active constituent of fresh ginger. Chemically, gingerol is a relative of capsaicin and piperine, the compounds which give chilli peppers and black pepper their respective spicyness.” – wikipedia for gingerol
There are difference between types of spicy: capsaicin (chili peppers), peprine (black pepper), gingerol (ginger), menthol (added to mint and part of peppermint), cinnamaldehyde (cinnamon), and isothiocyanate (horseradish, mustard, wasabi). But the common ingredient between most is that they interact with TRPV1 or one of it’s “children“, a receptor found in the brain that is generally thought to be associated with temperature and pain.
All the things listed above can be categorized as “spicy”. But most of them are considered “hot” burn and only a few are “cold” burn. He has a strong preference against the former and I have a preference for it. Generally, it appears that many of the cold burning route through one of those TRPV1 children, whereas the things he considers unappealing bond directly to TRPV1.*
But, there may be a solution to align our taste buds.
There are patches and creams, made from capsaicin to help manage pain. It essentially dulls the nociceptors and reduces the sense of pain.
“Qutenza is a high-potency capsaicin (8%) topical patch, labeled for treating pain associated with postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). Qutenza decreases pain sensation by reducing transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) expression and decreasing the density of epidermal nerve fibers.”(see source)
Drew and I have discussed using an over-the-counter patch or cream to see if it decreases his sensitivity or even allows him to enjoy more spicy foods. We’re unlikely to actually buy a patch, but one can buy pure capsaicin or capsicum oleoresin oil or spray, also known as “pepper spray” which should have the same function. Used sparingly and topically in small areas, he should be safe from the torturous aspects associated with pepper spray. The side effect will likely be that he feels less pain in general which doesn’t really sound like a bad thing. I’m purchasing an oil** to combine with a neutral oil to test. Once we try it out, I’ll definitely post an update.
*Note: This statement is based on my understanding of the reading I’ve done. However, if a more educated person has knowledge I missed and would shed further light on this, please let me know.
**Although I have linked to a product I purchased, I am neither making any money off it should you purchase it nor do I currently recommend it.
Photo sourced here.