For centuries, humans have eagerly consumed foods laced with the pain-inducing spice molecule capsaicin. This is odd, since our bodies typically shy away from anything that induces a pain response. Naked flame? Keep well away. Super hot chilis, on the other hand? Pile 'em up!
It turns out that the love of spice is a distinctly human pleasure. Paul Rozin, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, studied various animals only to discover that every single one preferred spice-free foods over spicy ones. Even when he conditioned rats to think spice is nice by spiking pepper-free food with something to make them sick, they still chose it over food laced with chili.
The bhut jolokia AKA the ghost pepper is the world's hottest chili
Perhaps neuroscience can help explain our love of the hot stuff? In the human brain, the sensations of pleasure and pain both activate feel-good neurons. On top of that, many of the areas where pain and pleasure neurons overlap release positive endorphins during times of stress. The relief felt after the initial sensation of spice-induced pain actually leads to pleasure.
It's been proven time and time again that spicy food is good for us. In fact, some scientists even think that humans evolved to enjoy spicy food thanks to its bacteria-fighting benefits. Spice also helps lower blood pressure, and potentially knocks out other bodily pains. Studies show that cultures which have spicier diets have lower rates of heart attack and stroke.
Curry: a world renowned and quintessentially spicy food
So next time you're asked how spicy you'd like to go with your meal, perhaps it's high time you turned it up a notch? It sounds like your body will thank you for it, although it certainly won't seem like it at the time. Now, please excuse me, I'm off to go and make a large helping of vindaloo.