Spice is a divisive topic. Some people can’t get enough while others are overwhelmed by the tiniest bit of heat. So, what determines whether you can handle the heat? And more importantly, is spicy food good for you? The answers to these questions might surprise you and you might just find yourself reaching for a jar of Arrabiata sauce to get your spice fix by the end of this post.
Why Spicy Food Hurts So Good… For Some People
To understand why some people like spice, it helps to understand what makes food feel spicy and what happens when you eat spicy food. The answers lie in capsaicin, the compound found in chili peppers, which are the star ingredient in most spicy dishes like our Arrabiata sauce. When you eat spicy foods, capsaicin irritates the receptors in your mouth that sense temperature and pain. These receptors interpret the irritation as heat but the level of heat they interpret depends not only on how spicy the food is but also on the sensitivity of an individual’s taste receptors. So, the level of spice you can handle depends on how sensitive your receptors are to capsaicin.
But that’s not the whole story—there’s more to why people who can handle spice love it so much. For starters, the sensation of heat triggers the body to release a rush of adrenaline and endorphins, or “happy chemicals.” As any thrill-seeker will tell you, this rush of chemicals is enough to keep you coming back for more. Culture also plays a part, introducing people to different levels of spice from a young age. An individual who was introduced to mild spice at a young age might not be able to handle much more than a spicy tomato sauce on their pasta while an individual who grew up eating spicier foods might be reaching for the habaneros at every meal.
Thrill Seekers Rejoice
In addition to the thrill and rush of endorphins we get from eating spicy foods, there are other health benefits to turning up the heat on your next meal. Spicy foods have been found to have natural antibacterial and antifungal properties. They have also been found to increase the rate by which your body burns calories. Capsaicin also fights inflammation and fights the effects of bad cholesterol, which could help support heart health. Finally chillies, like the ones found in a spicy Arrabiata sauce, are chock full of other nutrients like vitamins A and C.
Get Your Fix, the Italian Way
You might be wondering how all this talk of spicy food relates to Italian cuisine and the answer is: Arrabiata. In Italian, the word literally translates to “angry” and refers to the spiciness of the chillies in an Arrabiata sauce. Originating in Rome in the 19th or early 20th century, Arrabiata sauce is made with simple ingredients: tomato, chillies, garlic, and herbs. Paired with a penne noodle, it packs just the right amount of spice to get those feel good endorphins moving through your body.