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  • Writer's pictureAdam and Amy Gordon

Why Hot Peppers?...Part 2

Enjoy the heat! That is what I read recently. Why enjoy the heat? Why would someone want to willingly subject themselves to oral abuse? Is it pleasurable? Addictive? Delicious? All of the above actually! People have been eating peppers for various reasons throughout history. But what is behind the spiciness? I guess this would be the pepper's origin story, so to speak.

Peppers genetically belong to the family Solanaceae. This family also houses tomatoes, potatoes, tobacco and nightshade. The genus Capsicum describes at least 5 domesticated peppers species, more than 20 wild species and varieties of hybrids and cultivars. The most common is Capsicum annuum which includes:

- Ancho/Poblano

- Bell

- Cayenne

- Jalapeno

- Paprika

- Pimiento

- Serrano...And more.

Capsaicin is the dominant compound responsible for the hot and pungent taste of hot peppers. The chemical structure for capsaicin, for the scholarly inclined, is 8-methyl-6-nonanoyl vanillylamide. This is found with other compounds but should not be confused with capsaicin oleoresin, which is commonly used and found in over-the-counter topical pain relief products. I found it interesting (not surprising) that the capsaicin oleoresin or synthetic capsaicin is not reliably neuropeptide-active as natural capsaicin itself (1).

So what does neuropeptide-active mean? Why should I care? Neuropeptides are signaling molecules of the nervous system. They can influence the positive reinforcement centers of the brain. This means that the capsaicin in peppers can create a positive, happy feeling when ingested and creates a desire for you to eat more due to the positive feedback and reinforcement neurons firing. In short, hot peppers and their capsaicin content can be addictive (2)!

Capsaicin has many health benefits, Explore your options, check this out!

There is some truth to people becoming addicted to eating super hots. I didn't think so at first but the more research that you do and people you talk to you, the more you find out that it isn't so crazy.

Currently there is a lot of research ongoing to see what the extent of our neurons and neuropeptides are involved in the addiction and satisfaction center of our brains. I wouldn't be surprised if we will see new articles coming out about this very topic!

Short post, but it took me a while to get this little bit of information together. Hope you enjoy and keep eating hot peppers. They are good for the body and soul!

Stay Spicy,


(Due to the amount of information out there and the fact that I am not super versed in neuro biochemistry, I decided not to list specific ligands, proteins or signaling molecules.)

1. Fett, D. D., MD. (2003, January 3). Botanical Briefs: Capsicum Peppers. Close Encounters with the Environment. Retrieved August 11, 2019, from

2. Tewksbury, Joshua J., et al. “Costs And Benefits Of Capsaicin-Mediated Control Of Gut Retention In Dispersers Of Wild Chilies.” Ecology, vol. 89, no. 1, 1 Jan. 2008, pp. 107–117., doi:10.1890/07-0445.1.

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