I’m in my 30s, and through most of my life, I did not really like spicy foods. A little spice is ok, but when given the choice, I almost always ordered Mild.
But just in the last 6 months, my tolerance and appreciation for spicy foods has skyrocketed. My favorite hot sauce is the Rooster Sauce and I go through a big bottle almost every month. I put it on almost everything savory- and not just a few drops.
Why is this? I grew up in Louisiana, so spicy food was not exactly alien to me (I think Louisiana cuisine is among the more spicy American cuisines, though not really close to the same level as Thai or Szechuan).
My wife worries that chili sauce on every meal can cause stomach problems… but I haven’t had any yet.
Good for you. I grew up in Louisiana too and fear of spicy foods wasn’t allowed in my house. I eat habernero peppers raw these days because other peppers don’t seem hot enough to me. That rooster sriracha sauce is really addictive. I found it a few years ago and make dishes that go well with it just so I can have the sauce.
As you age, your taste buds start to wear out, which can lead to greater enjoyment of increased spice, salt, etc.
I, too, am a ‘convert’ to spicy foods. A few years ago I was introduced to Indian food. I started out ordering the wimpiest mild dishes, and now I order at heat levels higher than any of my friends.
A greater concern than stomach problems, I think, is damage to your taste buds. The more spice you eat, the more you damage your palate. People who eat lots and lots of spicy food sometimes get to the point where spicy food is ALL they can enjoy, since they can’t fully taste more mild dishes. I generally only order or prepare really hot dishes every now and then, though I do add at least a little bit of the Rooster to most savory dishes I make.
I like spicy food, though not quite to Shagnasty’s level of desensitization, so I can’t offer much insight as to the reason for the sudden shift. I know that I occasionally develop a mild obsession with a particular food, to the extent that I, too, start picking dishes specifically to eat that food. When I do, it’s usually something mildly spicy. A few years ago, I got fixated on pickled jalapenos, and ate them on practically everything for several months before tapering off. More recently, it was Valentina hot sauce. (It’s pretty mild, as hot sauce goes, but there’s something about the flavor that I love.) On the other hand, it’s sometimes been things like raw cabbage.
After the fixation winds down, I find that I still like the food more than I did before. Sometimes tastes can change abruptly, or maybe we form an association between a food and something else we enjoy. Just one more way that humans are weird, I suppose.
Oh, and I doubt that chili sauce is doing any harm to your stomach. It may make things a bit rougher if you have an unrelated stomach problem, though–it’s not nearly as tasty coming back up.
Most Chinese food isn’t spicy, though. If you’re in a Thai restaurant and you want to avoid spiciness, order one the inevitable Chinese dishes that they’ll have.
Well, tastes buds don’t respond to spiciness, so what really happens is that you just want to have more of the salt, (and sugar etc.)
The appeal of “spicy” food for many isn’t necessarily the capsicum (which is primary what’s in the hot sauce mentioned in the OP). It’s that cuisines that tend toward spiciness generally have more flavor in general (and ingredients that are experienced by the nose). (Some might argue that Mexican food is an exception to this, but remember that not all Mexicans like their food spicy.) If you like Indian or Thai food, it’s probably not only the spiciness. Just look at the number of ingredients that go into a Thai curry, or garam masala powder.
People who naturally have a higher density of taste buds (“super tasters”) don’t taste spiciness any more that those with a low density, because spiciness is detected by pain cells, not taste buds. What they can appreciate better is the contrasts of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. My theory is that people with lower density of taste buds tend to choose their food in general more by texture than super tasters, (but that’s just a guess). They can’t “process” the contrasts as quickly, so combinations like “sweet and spicy” don’t make sense to them.
As for stomach problems, we now know that spicy food has nothing to do with ulcers. Other effects could have as much to do with the other ingredients that come with spicy food, too. One thing that studies have shown is that populations which consume more capsicum have a lower incidence of constipation.
I have had a similar experience this year. I have always been a complete pepper wimp, not even liking the sting of black pepper. I was the first early adopter of Altoids among my friends, and if I coudl find a stronger mint I’d go for it in a second, and those crazy-sour candies that were in vogue for a while were no challenge to me at all. I even loved the super-cinnamon hot candies; but for some reason I’ve never been able to tolerate pepper.
This year, out of the blue, I suddenly love the stuff. I spent ages finding just the right pepper grinder, and now I put tons of black pepper on everything I eat. I’m even ready to try hotter peppers, despite the horrors they wreaked on my digestive tract in the past. I suspect I won’t have as much trouble with them now.
I even crave it. It’s a very strange change for me, and I’ve no explanation at all.
My mother is a super taster. She can’t even eat the generic salsa they serve in every Mexican restaurant.
Sriracha is my choice for Asian dishes (and tomato soup); Cholula and Tapatio for Mexican ones. Tobasco Chipotle is good on hot dogs. We have more hot sauces of various kinds in our fridge than have food. We order from here but haven’t gotten past the “hot” category.
I don’t believe this at all. I love spicy foods (hell, I’m growing fataliis, Trinidad Scoprions, Scotch bonnets, mustard habaneros, and bhut jolokias, among others, in my garden right now), but I also appreciate very subtle, mild flavors, too. It’s all about context and what’s appropriate.
What eating a lot of spicy foods DOES do to you is increase your tolerance for spice, so you may require greater and greater levels of spice to get that “kick” you desire. This doesn’t mean you don’t taste the underlying flavors. In fact, I think you taste the underlying flavors more, if anything. I’ve had people ask me how I can taste anything but fire and chemical burning in a habanero-type hot sauce, when to me it tastes like garlic, mango, citrus, etc., with a fiery finish.
Spicy food does not damage taste buds. The spiciness is felt through the trigeminal nerve. There are no taste receptors for “spicy”, only sour, sweet, salty, bitter and umami. A person becomes conditioned over time to the spice level of foods and may want a higher level to satisfy their cravings.
I did some more digging and you’re right - spicy food can’t damage your taste buds. However, from your link:
'Hign dietary levels of capsaicin also result in a chronic desensitization, as shown in psychophysical tests (Lawless, et al 1985). The extent and influence of this desensitization should be investigated further."
"Partial inhibition of taste responses has been found following pretreatment of oral tissues with capsaicin, particularly of sour and bitter tastes. "
So perhaps what I was mischaracterizing was the tendency for people who enjoy very spicy foods to continue to require higher levels of spices, which in turn masks the other flavors of food more.