As a barely discernible flake of Naga ghost chilli settled on the tip of my tongue, my eyes screwed up in anticipation of the intense burn. Waiting for the searing heat of the Naga to barbecue me from the inside out I felt so alone. Yet excited. Inexplicably excited.

me chilli

So why was I doing this? Why would anyone do this? Step forward Dr Fiona Russell from Kings College. Dr Russell specializes in looking at how chilli affects the body and after a spice master class at London’s Southbank Centre she patiently explained that both tolerance and addiction are to blame for a seemingly irrational need for chilli.

“The more chilli you eat, the more you can cope with it because the active ingredient, capsaicin overloads your nerves. This means the nerves can no longer send signals to the brain and your body stops feeling the affect so you need more each time to feel the heat.”

But why does your body like the heat? The pain? Is the body not a temple after all, but a monument to masochism? Well yes, kind of.

“Your body releases endorphins, your internal painkiller whenever you eat chilli. In effect it’s trying to do something which will counteract the pain from the heat.”

Chilli eating in short has all the hallmarks of a vicious cycle. You know you shouldn’t, but you can’t help yourself, your eat, you regret, you become euphoric, you come down, you eat, you regret…… and it never ever ends. Ever.

About Elizabeth Hotson

I'm a broadcast and print journalist, mainly at the BBC but I also write for other publications.

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