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Can you learn to like spicy food? © Getty Images

Can you learn to like spicy food?

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Some like it hot, but this will make you tingle with excitement if you can’t take the heat.

Asked by: Ella Swanson, Coventry

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The heat in chilli is caused by a chemical called capsaicin, which binds to the TRPV1 proteins in the nerves that sense pain and heat. If these receptors are continually stimulated by regular spicy meals then the nerve cells ‘turn down the volume’ by adding phosphate groups to the receptor proteins. This causes the protein to alter its three-dimensional shape and reduces its ability to bind to capsaicin, so you become less sensitive. Our sense of taste also naturally decreases as we get older, so food that used to be intolerably spicy might now produce just a pleasant tingle.


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Authors

luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.

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