Monday, 27 July 2009

It's like there's a party in my mouth, and everyone's on fire

Here's something that I have 'learned' recently, which I feel I should share with you.
There's a theory, and I've yet to confirm it, about why we like eating spicy foods. Logically, we shouldn't. Spicy food works, generally, via capsaicins, chemicals which are part of the pain perception system (they cause the feeling of irritation and burning, unsurprisingly). So why when we eat it, do we (mostly) enjoy it? In spite of the fact that it often causes sensations akin to sucking on a magmasicle.
By magmasicle, I of course meant a lollipop (or the American 'popsicle', which is obviously what my term is derived from) made of magma, liquid rock. Putting magma in your mouth would obviously cause serious, horrific burns, far worse than any curry, and would probably kill you fairly quickly. But then I realised the term magmasicle is crap for various reasons. Firstly, I'm confused as to whether it should be magmasicle, as in popsicle, or magmacicle, as in icicle, from which the word popsicle is obviously derived. I've emailed an American about this, will post the official verdict when she gets back to me.
There are many other problems with this term, not just spelling. Magma is liquid rock, yes, but it is, as far as I'm aware, the term for liquid rock when it is underground. As soon as it's escaped from it's rocky confines, it becomes lava. So a lavasicle would have been more logical. Logically, you would have to extract it from the ground in order to make it into some form of
-sicle (or -cicle?). You could try making a lollipop from liquid rock while it's still underground, but how would you get to it? Still, magma sounds cooler than lava. Ironic, really, as magma is, logically, a lot hotter, as it hasn't been exposed to the air.
'Magmasicle' also implies that you could make liquid rock into some form of suckable ice treat. In order to truly deserve the description of -sicle, then, the liquid rock would have to be frozen and solidified, which, although safer for the soft flesh of the mouth, defeats the whole point of using as a simile given the context of the original paragraph where I used the term was regarding sensation of putting something extremely hot in your mouth, and as I just said, a magmasicle, even if it was possible to make such a thing (and logically, it isn't) would actually be cool and very hard. It wouldn't be 'just like sucking on a rock', it would actually BE sucking on a rock. This would no doubt pose serious potential hazards to the teeth, but that wasn't what I was going for.
I could have said 'gargling with magma', and avoided this whole rant. But that still wouldn't avoid the magma/lava quandary. Or I could have just deleted the whole thing, or at least kept this pointless train of thought in my head where it could fester quietly like everything else. I could just delete this whole section and start again.
I might still do that.
Anyway, super hot curries and spicy foods hurt. I've heard a theory that they're still enjoyable because they burn off the taste buds, and this releases endorphins, which we enjoy. There's a certain amount of logic to this, pain can cause the release of endorphins, which are, essentially, natural heroin. This seems fine, but if it was that straight forward, I'd be very surprised. Burning off sensory cells such as taste buds should be much more painful than that offered by simple sensation of heat. And why doesn't stepping on glass, or burning your hand, or getting your leg blown off prove similarly enjoyable? All result in the destruction of sensory cells, why don't we enjoy those?
It's ridiculous in a way, but I'm as guilty as anyone. I love spicy food. Not the sort that's so hot it causes all the fluids in your body to evacuate (a phenomenon I've not heard described medically but one which my father swears he witnessed after a guy in the pub ate a triple strength phall for a bet and all the water in his body started pouring out of every orifice, and he only survived because Dai the WWII veteran took it upon himself to empty to contents of twelve ice buckets on him, which sounds far fetched but he assures me he has many witnesses), but the sort that causes a noticeable eye/nose leakage at worst. But then I've had the best Indian cuisine in London (and therefore the World? In the 19th century that would have been a valid claim, but I'm glad it's not anymore). My Father-in-law is a member of an exclusive Indian club which happens to do the best Indian food in London, and has sneaked me in. We've never got past the starters, we just tend to order those until physics takes over and we can't eat any more.
The increasing pleasure people get from incredibly hot foods is clearly a real thing. The Scoville scale's very existence says so. And I advise you to look at that link, it's amazing. The Scoville scale measures food 'hotness'. And it's incredible how high it goes. I like spicy food, but I get the impression that's like me saying 'Yeah, I've taken a life' because I've swatted a fly, to a bunch of guys who regularly strangle bears with their bare (bare? Bear? HA HA!) hands.
The scale is amazing, the link also lists products/produce which correspond to the scale, from 0 (bell peppers) to pure Capsaicin (16,000,000). Any scale which goes from 0-16,000,000 must be approached with caution. The fact that the pepper spray used by he police, a WEAPON, scores just over 5,000,000, shows how strong things get. I looked it up, the top stuff, pure Capsaicin, a teaspoon of that stuff will only be diluted if added to an Olympic swimming pool full of water. Which begs the question, who makes Chili in those volumes? Even if it's curry, same logic applies. What is this stuff for?
Nothing, of course, it's purely a curiosity. I don't know why people enjoy spicy food, but it really is good.
Hurrah for pain inflicting foodstuffs, long may they continue!

P.S. It is 'popsicle', that's a brand name, so that sorts that out. It must be true, an American told me.

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