Shun anything spicy, is what I did until I was well into my 30s. Even the ‘mild’ sauce option was a no-go for me at restaurants. Then came a New Mexico bus tour guide. His explanation to us of why people get hooked on spicy food changed my food life, literally. It’s because spicy foods make you feel good! It’s an endorphin release. So, the me who has always believed in the power of endorphins when it came to exercise and chocolate, resolved to test out the effect of spicy foods.
First, the important thing: How do you get relief from the burning sensation when the heat gets to be too much?
- Take another bite. This will only cool things off for a brief moment, because eventually you run out of the food you are eating.
- Drink milk. This will soften the burn. Other dairy works too, such as sour cream or cream cheese. Milk had always been my go-to relief, and the tour guide confirmed it is the best relief.
- Water and soda pop don’t work. The soda actually magnifies the sensation. The tour guide confirmed this, too.
Ways to start adapting your palate to spicy foods:
- Picante sauce. If you usually get mild, try medium by using less sauce and keeping milk or sour cream at hand for a quick cool down.
- Rotel tomatoes and melted cheese dip. Aka, ‘Queso’. Who doesn’t know how to make this tailgating staple? It’s got your spicy hot flavor and dairy combined in one scrumptious dip. Rotel makes several options for how hot you want it.
- Taco seasoning. You can buy packets at the store, or try making your own. Once I started making my own, there was no going back to the packets for me.
- Sriracha sauce. Other than a wings recipe using Sriracha (that I love), I haven’t experimented with Sriracha sauce in cooking yet. Here’s a site with 50 recipes using Sriracha. https://greatist.com/health/healthy-sriracha-recipes
- Old Bay seasoning. This is used in seafood dishes. After eating Frogmore Stew with kielbasa and Old Bay, I swear, I feel giddy for the rest of the day. I’m not kidding.
- Wikipedia has some good info on Old Bay. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Bay_Seasoning
- Here’s a site with a nice selection of recipes using Old Bay. http://www.old-bay-seasoning.com/
- Kroger/Dillons has a budget-priced version of Old Bay, called ‘Chesapeake Bay Style Seasoning’.
- Here’s a copycat recipe for Old Bay that I haven’t tried. https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/homemade-old-bay-seasoning-recipe-52622321
- Hot Italian sausage.
- Make it your go-to pizza topping.
- Substitute it for ground beef in homemade Spaghetti and Lasagna.
- BBQ Hot Links. Almost every barbecue restaurant around here offers hot links on their menu. It’s my standing order. For home cooking, I like to buy my spicy hot links here. https://www.yodermeatsks.com
- Spicy jams and jellies. If you don’t see them on your grocery shelf, try the nearest farmer’s market, or order it online. I order from Simply Homemade, a maker in Minnesota. She and I have been friends for several years, because of her hot pepper jellies, and our shared love of ’60s music. (Scroll down on her page for the hot pepper jellies.) The jellies are great on buttered toast or Ritz crackers. To control the heat, first spread a layer of cream cheese, then dab the jelly on top of the cheese.
Grow your own? For the first time, I’m trying to grow peppers. Apparently, I got them planted too late in the season, so I haven’t been able to pick any yet. There are a bunch of little growing peppers and blossoms on the plant, so I’m trying to keep the plant from freezing. I badly want my first-ever harvest of Poblanos.
More from the web on spicy foods and their mood-elevating effects:
1. From Northwestern University. “Now that we know why peppers are hot, you might be asking yourself, “Why exactly would anyone seek out this burning sensation?” The answer to this question can be found in the way our brains are wired. Capsaicinoids trick the brain into thinking it is being burned, which is a painful experience, through the transmission of neurotransmitters. Remember, earlier when I said your neurons play telephone. Well, when your body senses pain somewhere like the tongue that message has to make it to the brain. The message is sent from the location it is initially generated to the brain through a network of neurons by talking to each other via neurotransmitters, which are essentially chemical messages. One such message produced by capsaicinoids is substance P, which transmits pain signals. The brain responds by releasing another type of neurotransmitter known as endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural way of relieving pain by blocking the nerve’s ability to transmit pain signals. Additionally, the neurotransmitter dopamine, responsible for a sense of reward and pleasure, is also released. In essence, for some people eating large amounts of spicy food triggers a sense of euphoria similar to a “runner’s high”. Source: http://helix.northwestern.edu/blog/2014/07/your-brain-capsaicin
2. From MedicalDaily.com. “If you haven’t jumped on the Sriracha bandwagon yet, maybe you’ll want to after reading this. Spicy food, that oh-so-tingling, burning, get-it-out-of-my-mouth food, actually induces a natural high minutes after eating it. And hey, the spicier the better.
Chili peppers in particular contain high levels of the substance capsaicin, which causes the burning sensation in spicy food. The chemical has been proven before to work as a topical painkiller for arthritis, and also forces the brain to release endorphins. “The endorphins work to block the heat,” Paul Bosland, cofounder and director of New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute, told ABC News in 2012. “The body produces them in response to the heat, which it senses as pain.” The result: a strong head buzz and numbness.
Some research even suggests capsaicin in higher levels can have mildly hallucinogenic effects. According to History, Mayans used them over 9,000 years ago as stimulants, while today’s chili eaters have reported seeing objects that weren’t even in the room and losing feelings in body parts.” Source: https://www.medicaldaily.com/pass-spicy-food-4-ways-get-high-without-any-drugs-whatsoever-323588
3. ‘Chile Facts‘ is a useful information page on the various hot peppers. http://chilefacts.nmsu.edu/
So there you go. If you’ve always shunned spicy foods, you may be denying yourself a great dose of endorphins. Pour yourself a big glass of milk, and try to expand the limits of your taste buds.
And yes, the title of this post comes from the 1980s commercial. It’s still true.