The closer you get to the equator, the spicier the food gets. Word has it that it’s because hot foods cool you down. Is that even true and how does it work?
Common sense tells us that when we get hot, we need to reach for ice water or frosty food like a popsicle to lower our internal temperatures. In many countries, like India, Malaysia and Mexico, the food flavors go up the Scoville Unit spicy scale, though. Isn’t that counterintuitive to cooling off? Turns out, it isn’t.
When we eat spicy foods, it raises our own body temperatures. When our body temp goes up, we sweat. When we sweat and that sweat evaporates, we feel cooler. Ahhh.
Capsaicin, the irritant found in foods like hot peppers, stimulate thermoreceptors in your mouth. These thermoreceptors tell your face to activate gustatory sweating, where your face and neck begin sweating.
In order to cool down, the sweat must be able to evaporate from your skin, though, which works best in low humidity and if your skin is uncovered. Eating ghost peppers while wearing a hoodie on a swampy day is not advised.
This phenomenon is not limited to spicy foods either. Temperature-hot foods, like soup and tea, can also make you sweat. That process works a little differently by activating the thermoreceptors in your stomach instead, but the effect is the same with sweating to follow. It’s like an internal cold shower.
Conversely, cold foods may make you hotter as your body tries to fight the temperature-lowering by heating up your body. You’re better off with a bowl of hot chili when the weather is spicy instead of ice water.
The next time your feeling flush, try an intense curry, some hot saucy soup, or any other hot and spicy food. Then, prepare to perspire!
TL; DR: Hot spicy and warm-temperature foods start a process within your body that cools it down via sweating, so try that instead of ice cream the next time you want to beat the heat.