Myth Debunked: Spicy Food Doesn’t Really Kill Taste Buds

Go on — dribble a little more of that Cholula hot sauce on your breakfast taco. Take a generous scoop of the habanero salsa. Brave the Thai dish branded “extra spicy” by not one, not two, but three cartoon chili peppers on the margin of the menu. No need to hold back on account of your taste buds.

So says Paul Bosland, horticulturist, director of the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University and identifier of several of the world’s spiciest peppers. Spicy food’s reputation as a taste-bud destroyer is just an extremely widespread misconception, Bosland said. The myth gets a boost from two main factors.

First off, the chemical capsaicin (the active ingredient in spicy peppers) makes mouths temporarily go numb, and the loss of sensation gives you the impression that your taste buds must be dying. They aren’t.

“That numbness is your body protecting itself from pain,” Bosland told Life’s Little Mysteries. “It’s an interesting phenomenon. What’s happening is that your taste receptors are sending a signal to your brain that there’s pain in the form of hotness or heat.” (This happens because, through a weird evolutionary quirk, certain pain receptors in our nerve endings react to capsaicin in the same way they react to heat.) “And so your brain starts producing endorphins to block that pain, which causes numbness.”

Source: Myth Debunked: Spicy Food Doesn’t Really Kill Taste Buds | Hot Sauce |