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The pain and the pleasure of spicy foods.

Human beings are the only species who enjoy spicy foods; as we have evolved to like warm foods, we have conditioned ourselves to enjoy spicy foods that mimic the sensation of actual warmth. But chili peppers bring more than warmth, they can come with a side order of pain! The heat is a result of capsaicin, a chemical that activates the pain receptors in your mouth.

It turns out that there’s a correlation between adventure seekers and spice devotees -- people who love zip lining, bungee jumping, and luge also like spicy foods. One study suggests that these adrenaline junkies were six times more likely to crave the heat; it seems there’s a correlation between hot peppers and bravado! Men are more likely to say they enjoy spicy food, but taste testing discovered that it was actually women who preferred the taste of hot foods.

So what peppers are really the hottest? The answer to that is answered in SHU, or ‘Scoville Heat Units.’ Wilbur Scoville invented the scale in 1912 based on human taste buds. He would dilute the extract from a pepper with sugar water until a human could no longer detect any heat. According to how much he had to dilute the pepper, that’s where it would end up on the scale. Today, we recreate this test with ‘high performance liquid chromatography.’ Pure capsaicin clocks in at 16 million SHU, a habanero pepper fires up to 570 000 SHU, while a jalapeno pepper, like the ones we serve with our calamari at Moxie’s, can hit 5 000 SHU. Currently, the hottest pepper on the scale is the Carolina Reaper, rated at 1 569 300 SHU. One brave soul, Matt Gross, documented his experience of ‘enjoying’ three of these infamous peppers trying to set a Guinness Record -- it gave him a burning throat, followed by an hour of euphoria, and 14 hours of miserable heartburn (we highly recommend reading his full account of the experience). Other brave souls have reported hallucinations after ingestion. This adventure is not for everyone, most diners simply want that comforting warmth that comes with reasonably spicy food. 

“Calm the heat of spicy with a glass of milk, a side of bread, a splash of alcohol or even a chocolate dessert."

As soon as the temperature drops into winter, we all become spicy food connoisseurs -- the heat of hot wings might bring beads of sweat to your brow, but there is also an instant core temperature increase. Every bite of Beef Vindaloo is teeming with Indian flavours, hearty beef, and just the right amount of heat that slowly builds as you eat, warming you from the inside out. Beyond the solace we find in soothing dishes, there’s a several links to longevity and good health, plus proven connections to weight loss,and improved healing, and even evidence of spicy food being anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. So feel good about choosing curry bowls and enchiladas, you’re doing more than just enjoying delicious food!

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