Spice is nice

The Carolina Reaper (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

The Carolina Reaper (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Ben Ragals

The Carolina Reaper is the world’s hottest pepper currently (there are hotter peppers in development). In fact, it is over 1,000 times hotter than a jalapeño pepper. “Smokin’” Ed Currie (who creates many of the world’s hottest peppers and is a master of pepper hybrids) created the Reaper by cross breeding a Ghost Pepper with a Habañero. The pepper was then tested for its Scoville level (the level of capsaicin in a pepper) and averaged 1,569,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). However, the pepper sometimes goes over 2 million SHU.

To get a taste of the pepper, I bought Reaper Sling Blade Hot Sauce and tried it out. I chose the sauce because it is not nearly as hot as the pepper itself as it is diluted by vinegar and other ingredients. Also, this sauce is supposed to not sting as long as usual, according to the reviews.

The sauce was not spicy. My experiment failed. The hot sauce was so heavily diluted by the other ingredients that the pepper’s heat was drowned out. My other theory is that there is a difference in heat in the batches of the sauce, as its Amazon reviews seem to indicate.

So instead of reviewing the sauce, I’m going to discuss the science of spicy foods.

It all starts with capsaicin, the chemical in hot peppers and foods that causes the illusion of heat. Capsaicin finds its way into special receptors in our mouth, the same receptors that protect us from physically hot foods so we don’t burn ourselves. That reaction causes our bodies to perceive the food as hot, stinging our tongue and making our eyes tear up.

No one is sure why people like spicy foods. However, in a WIRED article, Paul Rozin, a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania, theorizes that the pain from the capsaicin is the appeal. Rozin says spicy foods are the best right before the point in which the pain is no longer tolerable.

Weber students and faculty shared what spicy foods they like and why they think spicy foods are appealing. Among all who were interviewed, wings and surprisingly, Ghost Pepper Chex Mix were very popular. While sophomores Bryan Kopkin and Stephen Rusnak alongside English Teacher Ms. Megehee agreed to the tolerable pain theory, one student, sophomore Leora Lewis did not agree saying, “I can see why that’s a theory, but I don’t believe it.” However, the theory seems that it could be true. Kopkin also had an interesting point: “I think because spice isn’t a flavor, it’s a feeling. I like that burn.”