If you are reading this article, it’s safe to assume that you’ve asked yourself ‘why do I crave hot sauce’?
The answer is not as simple as “because they taste good.”
There are many reasons why people want spicy foods and why those desires can be so strong. In fact, some experts refer to these cravings as a form of addiction.
This blog post will go through the top 4 reasons why we crave hot sauces. It will explore whether spicy food can become an addiction like drugs or alcohol.
1 – Increased Capsaicin Tolerance
Capsaicin is the ingredient in hot sauce and spicy food that makes it “hot.”
This chemical is the main reason why you crave more of these spicy foods over time.
Now don’t get me wrong. Capsaicin and spicy foods are NOT drugs in the usual sense of the word. But, capsaicin is a chemical that like other drugs is affected by the ‘adaptive process‘.
Capsaicin increases your tolerance to spicy foods. Meaning the next time you eat a spicy dish, it will taste less hot than before.
If you keep eating capsaicin-rich food, nothing will seem too hot for your taste buds anymore.
Then every time you eat something with some spice in it, like a jalapeno pepper or salsa, your brain tells you this:
I NEED MORE!
And so the cycle begins again…and again…and again until finally all those dishes seem just as bland as milk.
Let’s learn more about Capsaicin because it’s the most significant factor causing cravings.
After we discuss Capsaicin we’ll explore other 3 reasons too.
Spice Is Life In Thailand
I had an opportunity years ago to live as a Forest Monk in the wilderness of Thailand.
Even though I spent my days meditating in a green forest, I still had ample time to connect with the local culture.
Every morning the locals would prepare breakfast for the monks, who only ate 1 time per day.
Why did the locals cook food for the monks everyday? Well I learned that the Forest Monks would take many vows. Including celibacy and to only eat what they begged for or was given as donations!
To me this was a bit extreme, but since I was visiting and learning their way of life, I just went with the flow.
And what I noticed every morning when the locals prepared food … Hot Sauce! Spicy foods! Red chili peppers!
The hot food was unbearable to me in the beginning. I remember trying to rinse my mouth out with water to get the fire out of my taste buds!
Fortunately, my taste buds grew accustomed to the hot spicy taste within a week or two. This was my body’s way of adjusting to my tongue’s increased capsaicin exposure.
Fortunately, by week three I was less bothered by the once hot, spicy sauces.
Do you see how my tolerance to spicy foods increased in a matter of weeks?
Once I left the Forest Monastery and returned to the United States, the food tasted bland.
Normal foods which once tasted good felt like they were missing something.
I found myself craving the red hot peppers! A craving I never imagined I would have developed in a thousand years!
This is when I realized how you can become dependent and crave spicy foods. All because of an increased tolerance to capsaicin!
Now, my spicy tolerance did decrease in about 3 weeks I would say. I wasn’t THAT addicted and I did not crave spicy food for very long after I left Thailand.
But can you see how if you’ve been habitually eating spicy foods, how your tolerance could drastically decrease?
And how it would feel like the only thing to get your sense of flavor back would be pouring on more hot sauce?
Capsaicin Is Why Hot Sauce Is So Addictive!
Nowadays we have so many different types of hot sauces:
- Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
- Louisiana Style Hot Sauce
- Mad Dog 357 Maxi Size Extra Hot Pepper Extract Sauce
- And while not technically a ‘sauce’ we all know about the red chili peppers we sprinkle on pizza too!
Do you know what all these hot sauces have in common? The ingredient ‘capsaicin’!
Capsaicin is the ingredient you develop tolerance, and then crave once your tolerance increases.
For more scientific info on capsaicin, read here.
What Exactly Does Capsaicin Do To Your Insides?
Capsaicin, a chemical found in chilis and other spicy foods, is the reason why spice is addictive.
When we eat it, capsaicin binds to TRPV1 receptors on our tongue. These send signals to nerve cells transmitting pain messages up through the spine.
The body reacts by releasing endorphins as well as another neurotransmitter called substance P. This neurotransmitter floods into areas of your brain responsible for pleasure (see reason #3 down below).
These two chemicals not only make you feel good …
But also numb any pain from eating hot food or spices like peppers and black pepper!
To summarize, Capsaicin can work at two levels:
- It can desensitize your taste buds to hot foods over time. This means that if you keep consuming capsaicin-rich food, eventually nothing will seem too hot for your taste buds anymore.
- It can actually turn on or off your taste buds. Capsaicin actually stimulates the nerve endings on the tongue to create an increased sensitivity to both hot and cold foods.
This is why people crave more spice over time – because their taste buds have been desensitized to the heat.
Capsaicin can also increase your heart rate and cause a release of endorphins!
Endorphins are hormones that make you feel happy, so why wouldn’t we crave more spice over time?
Speaking of exercise, endorphins and overeating … These are all reasons you might crave hot sauce too! So let’s keep learning about the reasons you might crave spicy foods beyond capsaicin!
2 – Overheating
Eating foods drenched in hot sauce are going to raise your body’s temperature, right?
If you eat a hot dog smothered in Sriracha sauce, those spicy sensations are going to make you sweat! Right?
But paradoxically by making you sweat, hot spicy foods actually cool you down in the long term.
Your body temperature gets spiked when the Sriracha touches your taste buds.
But then your body reacts by making you sweat!
Plus, your blood vessels in your fingers, toes, legs and arms may dilate or get wider. As these outer extremity blood vessels widen, this draws blood away from the center of your body. It goes more towards your limbs (away from the center).
This is your body’s way of cooling you down!
This makes more flow of blood away from the center of your body and decreases the temperature of your blood. Because the center of your body is the warmest.
This effect doesn’t just occur with spicy foods too! If you drink too much alcohol you’ll have the same effect.
3 – Endorphins
Endorphins are hormones that help make us feel happy. And when we eat peppers with capsaicin it causes an increase in endorphins. This makes us want more hot sauce or spicy foods over time.
But if you’ve been habitually eating spicy foods then it will desensitize those nerves so they won’t react like before!
This reason is very like the ‘Increased Capsaicin Tolerance’ I already discussed above.
Yet, you can also get food cravings for spicy foods because you crave the endorphin ‘hit’ hot spicy foods provide.
Have you ever got some craving spicy wing feelings? Where you just wanted a hot spicy wing after a long day’s work and the fire-y taste made you perk up and FEEL SOMETHING?
Or maybe you felt a little down and you wanted something to add some brightness and spice to your life? So you added a few extra drops of Tapatio to your slice of pizza?
Let me know in the comments what’s your go-to spicy food fix when you’re feeling a bit down and want something to perk up!
4 – Pregnancy
People also crave spicy foods during pregnancy! Because when pregnant, a woman’s natural sense of taste changes which may make certain foods too spicy for them to handle.
Pregnant women may experience a decreased sense of taste and increased sensitivity to smell, among other physical changes too!
From an evolutionary perspective, it’s hypothesized the sense of smell heightens to protect the mother and her infant from toxins.
Yet the sense of taste decreases so the woman becomes more open to eating a variety of foods so that her body is able to eat enough food to sustain two lives.
While their changing taste buds and taste preferences are the primary reasons pregnant women experience increased cravings for hot foods, we must also keep in mind several things:
- Capsaicin may also positively affect blood pressure, decrease constipation, and help clear sinuses. There are a bunch of reasons!
- Not all pregnant women experience cravings the same way. For example, chocolate, which is the most commonly cited food craving by pregnant women in the United States, is not a popular food craving for pregnant women in Egypt.
- This suggests that food cravings while pregnant are culturally and socially influenced.
Final Thoughts On Spicy Food Cravings
In this post, we’ve explained how the brain responds to capsaicin and why spicy food is addictive.
We hope that you can use these insights in your own life to make healthy choices for your body and mind. If you want some extra help with cravings or overeating, read our other blog post on spicy food cravings for more info!