By Sarah Moses:
Why do some people love spicy food while others can’t bear the burn? It could be a question of testosterone for those men who like it hot.
Eat an Andhra curry and your mouth will probably be on fire. That’s because of capsaicin. It’s the ingredient that gives hot peppers their bite, and can cause everything from sweating to mild discomfort to outright pain. But despite these very real physical effects, people the world over are into spicy food.
Why can some take the heat better than others? A team of French researchers decided they’d turn to science to help answer the question. They focused in on men since sociologists have suggested that eating spicy food could be a way for some guys to show off their manliness.
Testosterone is linked with stereotypically manly behaviour and might also affect eating habits, so the researchers reasoned that measuring levels of this hormone in men’s saliva would be a good place to begin.
They invited 144 French men to the laboratory to dine on a dinner of mashed potatoes. The men were told they could add as much hot sauce and salt to the meal as they desired. Before they dug in, they were asked if they liked hot foods, and afterwards they told the researchers if they thought the meal they’d just eaten had been spicy.
Men with higher levels of testosterone are more likely to douse their food in spicy sauce than those with lower levels of the hormone, the study found. Salt, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be related to testosterone.
Though men who like it hot have more testosterone in their saliva, the reasons behind the link aren’t clear, say the researchers. It’s possible that higher testosterone levels could be the reason a man enjoys spicy foods, but the opposite could also be true: eating a meal loaded with capsaicin could cause testosterone levels to soar.
There are also plenty of other factors that affect whether a man likes to spice things up. Genetics can play a role by determining his taste preferences, and certain personality traits have even been linked to seeking out spicy food.
Interestingly, the chili-testosterone link would seem to square with the ancient Ayurvedic idea that hot spices are a rajasic food. These high-powered foods are supposed to make you energetic, assertive or even aggressive. In other words, just the kind of personality you’d expect from Mr Testosterone.
Of course, there are also major cultural differences. In some parts of the world spice is the norm, while other regions go for blander cuisine. Research has shown that the more often a person eats hot spicy food, the more likely they are to enjoy it. Hot food takes some getting used to, but once you’ve acquired the taste, it’s irresistible!