I’ve been asked a few questions about the effects of eating hot spicy food: Why does spicy food hurt my tongue? Why does curry hurt my dad’s bottom? And why, if spicy food hurts us, do we keep on eating it?!
Sometimes when we cook, we use ingredients called spices. Spices come from plants and we use them to add flavour or colour to foods and sometimes to try to stop food from going bad or rotten. Some spices you might have heard of are: pepper, cinnamon and ginger.
Curries are flavoured with lots of different spices. One of them is chilli powder, which is made from chilli peppers and contains a chemical called capsaicin (pronounced cap-say-sin). Capsaicin is what makes chilli powder taste hot.
Capsaicin makes some of the nerves inside your body – the ones that help you to feel heat and rubbing pain – send messages to your brain. Those messages tell your brain that you are feeling something hot or sore. Your body has lots of these nerves in your nose, mouth and bumhole, which is why your mouth feels like it hurts when you eat curry or other hot spicy foods (and why your bottom can feel sore when you do a poo afterwards)!
But did you know that drinking water won’t help to cool your tongue down? That’s because capsaicin doesn’t dissolve in water. Instead, you should try milk, yogurt or ice cream to make the hot spiciness go away. Alcohol also works, so some grown-ups like to drink beer with their curry.
And if you cook with chilli peppers or chilli powder, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water to get rid of any capsaicin on your fingers. If you don’t and then you touch your eyes or nose, you might get a nasty surprise!
Fun fact: Spices have been very important throughout history for use in food and medicine and perfumes. You can find out more here.