In many of our kitchens, there sits a red bottle with a green cap. In the upper echelons of hot sauce, there is room for only a few, and sitting pretty next to Tabasco and Cholula is the red rooster that adorns the Sriracha bottle.
And as it happens, there are chemical reasons why people find the hot sauce so delicious.
Spicy peppers, like the red chili, contain two chemicals called capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin, which affect our mouths’ TPRV1 receptor proteins. These receptors typically serve as a warning system when we eat something way too hot—more than 109 degrees Fahrenheit, the video says.
Because capsicum hits those receptors, too, we feel the “heat” of peppers in much the same way we would actual heat.
To counteract that, the body releases pain-killing endorphins (similar to a runner’s high), which is why spicy foods can make you feel happy, and at least part of why some fanatics grow and seek out peppers that are higher and higher on the Scoville scale, which measures chili pepper heat. (One contender for world’s hottest pepper averages around 1.5 million Scoville units.
A regular jalapeño, for comparison, clocks in at about 4000.)
NPR reports that the power of peppers may even have some applications for pain relief—Qutenza is a capsaicin pain relief patch that the FDA approved a few years ago.