Love spicy food & can’t handle it? Here are 6 ways to train your tongue!

Spicy food – to some a boon, to others a bane. ? While some are born pros in their spice game, others may struggle. All it takes is a little practice to enjoy spicy food, and this article is going to be your coach. ?

What is spiciness?

We often hear that certain food ‘taste’ spicy. However, you can’t taste spice unlike sweet, sour or salty. ? What happens is that the active compound in spicy food called ‘capsaicin’ triggers sensory neurons. These are found all over your body, including your nose and tongue. ?? So when you eat a chili pepper, your mouth feels like it is burning because your brain thinks that it is actually in contact with a hazardous heat source which isn’t the case. It’s a sort of chemical trickery caused by the capsaicin. The brain responds to this with fight or flight, causing sweating, runny noses and rapid heartbeats. It doesn’t cause any damage or actual harm to your body. ?

Though this may sound contradictory, capsaicin is a well-known pain relief ingredient. ? For many years, it has been used as an agent to treat pain related to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other kinds of joint pains. Losing weight can be promoted through capsaicin as research shows that consuming spicy food can elevate metabolism and help burn fat. ?   

Fun fact – The car Porsche Cayenne was named after the Cayenne pepper.

Spiciness or the level of ‘capsaicin’ is measured through the Scoville scale. So if you’ve tried the spiciest chicken wings (Blazin Hot Wings), it is 350,000 SHU’s which is 50 times the heat of a jalapeno! ? The hottest pepper is the Dragons Breath Chilli with 2.48 million SHU’s. These peppers need to be handled with extreme caution as it can cause burns. Gloves are a must. ?

Steps to increase spice tolerance 

Spicy food is the crown delicacies of some cuisines. Once you start eating them, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything less. ?

1. Start small by increase your intake of these ingredients

If spicy food isn’t your favourite, the best way to overcome it wouldn’t be to eat a chili. ? Baby steps like increasing the amount of black pepper in your dishes or sprinkling chili flakes to give it a kick is the way to go! Sauces like Tabasco or Sriracha are great to mix sparingly with ketchup to spice it up. New party dip! ?

2. Feel the burn

No pain, no gain! This is the main rule while training your tongue to tolerate spice. If you feel the tingle, your immediate thought shouldn’t be to drink water as it will only make the pain worse. ? This is because capsaicin is insoluble in water (like oil and water) and it will cause water to spread the capsaicin around your mouth, intensifying the pain. Savour the spice and fight the urge to get rid of the pain. It’ll help you enjoy spicy food more in the long run. ?

3. Neutralize with Dairy

Capsaicin can be counterbalanced with dairy. Milk and yoghurt are your best friends in this case. ? They contain casein which attracts capsaicin molecules, effectively pulling them away from the pain receptors. Another absorbent is starch. Food like bread, crackers and potatoes can help you neutralize the spiciness. ??

4. Slow and steady

When eating chili peppers and spicy food it is important to eat slowly. This will help the body react more slowly to the capsaicin you’re ingesting. ? By eating slowly, you are giving the body time to adjust and still keeping a tolerable amount going into the body. Be patient. Don’t get discouraged if your palate doesn’t seem to be adjusting to the heat. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to months to get accustomed to the new level of spice. ?

5. Experiment

Various cuisines incorporate spice into their dishes in different styles. Once you’re familiar with your go-to spices in each cuisine, you can prepare dishes to your liking. ? Indian cuisine, for example, often employs a mixture of spices called ‘masala’ to the dishes. Mexican cuisine spices it up with jalapeno and paprika. These cuisines also combine these dishes with coolants like lime, yogurt, and cilantro. This way, you can travel using your palate and discover what spice blends you enjoy. ? If you got hungry, check out this Instant Pot Chicken tacos recipe and see how can you spice up dinner.

6. Raise the stakes

When your taste buds get accustomed to these small measures of spice, turn it up a notch. Try adding seeded, chopped chilies to your meals. ? Seeds contain most of the capsaicin content. So leave them out at first and once you get used to the heat, you can add them in.  You don’t have to saturate every meal with hot sauce, but if you want to broaden your tolerance, then you need to have an occasional meal that leaves you with a burning mouth. It’s like exercising a muscle. ?

Misconceptions about spicy food

1. One misconception about spicy food is that it can cause stomach ulcers and other digestive issues. While a hot and spicy diet can certainly aggravate existing problems like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, it cannot bring on the symptoms on its own, and normal, healthy people have nothing to fear. ?

2. Another false misconception is that spicy food can kill taste buds. In fact, since the capsaicin only affects pain sensors, taste buds are totally safe. ?

Anyone can play the spice game! Some may conquer and thrive while some may struggle inside. ? However, repetition and perseverance are your teammates here. And milk too. Don’t forget your milk. ?

Note – Not everyone’s stomach can cope with spicy food. If you constantly experience ache after including spiciness into your diet, then stop. It’s just not for you. ?

Written and Researched by Neha Shelly

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