Not Nice Spice vs. Timely Tranquilizer

Hot, hot, hot! That’s why most people don’t like spice! Not that I love spicy foods, but I can take my fair share. But when enough is enough, there never seems to be anything to put out the fire in my mouth. Water doesn’t help, but one drink readily available for most can stop the fiercest of fiery mouths. That drink is milk.

In certain foods like peppers, there is capsaicin. This also appears in spices like oregano, cinnamon, and cilantro. It is completely odorless, and, according to one article, “A solution that contains only 10 parts per million produces a persistent burning sensation when placed on the tongue.” You can taste it better when there is less of it. The burning flavor comes form a long hydrocarbon tail. It can bind strongly with lipotein receptors. Its fatty tail allows it to move easily through lipid-rich membranes, making the taste fiercer.  Based off what the website said, the compounds have different structures that are very similar. This is the reasoning behind where the burning sensation is. For some peppers, it may be in the mouth, while others in the throat.   The reason for associating the burning sensation for being hot? “The capsaicin key opens a door in the cell membrane that allows calcium ions to flood into the cell. That ultimately triggers a pain signal that is transmitted to the next cell.”  The same thing happens when cells are exposed to heat. That means that  chili and heat burns are similar at the molecular, cellular, and sensory levels.

That still doesn’t explain why water doesn’t help. Capsaicin is insoluble in cold water, but freely soluble in alcohol and vegetable oils. Small amounts alcohol won’t help though, so milk is a better remedy.  “Milk contains casein, a lipophilic (fat-loving) substance that surrounds and washes away the fatty capsaicin molecules in much the same way that soap washes away grease.” But even after you know you can eat spicy foods and still be able to cool yourself down, don’t eat too much! Too much of a good thing is not good at all, and capsaicin is the same!  Capsaicin prevents nerve cells from communicating because it blocks the production of certain neurotransmitters and can even destroy cells! In the past, capsaicin has even been used as a weapon. “The Mayans burned chiles to create a stinging smoke screen, and threw gourds filled with pepper extract in battle.” Today, it is commonly used in pepper spray. It can also be used to relieve pain, after exposure and tolerance to it builds. Some people, if they regularly eat spicy foods, can enjoy it, as endorphins are released after you are comfortable with the taste, making it a pleasant experience.

While I don’t eat spicy foods often, I do love salsa and other spicy things, as long as it isn’t too much in one serving! While I may not get a rush from eating spicy foods, I do enjoy the mouth on fire feeling for a few seconds (and then I just get thirsty!). At least now I know I should drink milk, instead of drinking water!

Links:

http://antoine.frostburg.edu/chem/senese/101/features/capsaicin.shtml

So ta ta for now and I hope to see your chemical reaction soon!

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3 thoughts on “Not Nice Spice vs. Timely Tranquilizer

  1. Pingback: Move Over Monstrous Milk! | Chemical Reaction

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