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Eating hot food: know the facts

By Daniel Bettridge
Eating hot food: know the facts
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Ever since man first discovered nature's little firecrackers, there's been a certain amount of machismo associated with eating hot food. Why are men obsessed with scorching grub? And what tricks can we employ to help us handle it?

I'm not sure what it is, but waft a chilli or a particularly powerful curry in the general direction of anyone encumbered with the Y chromosome and you'll spark the culinary equivalent of rutting stags; a competitive streak whereby men must prove their virility by consuming spicy foodstuffs.

So why are men obsessed with scorching grub?

More manly, more cultured?
A recent survey carried out by UK curry magazine Chaat! polled single men aged 18 and over in order to try and find out what makes people eat spicy food.

It would appear that impressing the ladies is the main driver with more than half (52%) of the blokes questioned admitting that they'd plump a hotter curry than they'd normally order to impress a date, while 32% said they'd do the same thing to win over their mates.

So, aside from a misguided idea of how to make friends and influence people, what do we really think opting for the hottest dish on the menu says about us?

When asked why they chose spicier dishes in order to impress others, almost half of those polled (47%) said they thought it made them look "more manly", and 42% of the respondents thought that ordering a particularly virulent vindaloo made them seem "more cultured".

Yes, amazing as it may seem, us men actually believe that the ability to stomach spicy food impresses people, and I don't even know where to start on the idea that it would make you seem more cultured.

It's clear that something's got lost in translation somewhere down the line. After all it used to be that men proved themselves in battle, so perhaps as society's evolved modern men have replaced jousting competitions with jalfrezis in an effort to demonstrate their machismo.

What are we trying to prove?
I turned to relationship expert Marisa Peer to find out why men react this way around spicy food.

Her take? "Men show off by eating hot food as their greatest need is to be admired. So in the early days of dating, for example, a man is trying to show the girl that he is brave, willing to take risks, does things other men can't do, isn't a wimp and doesn't shirk from a challenge."

Does replacing social skills with spicy food actually work? Unsurprisingly, just 14% of those polled said that their date had been impressed by the fact that they had eaten a spicy dish, with many obviously overlooking the impact that the after effects of their spice fuelled show-off might have on their evening.

Nevertheless Marisa explains that men aren't necessarily barking up the wrong tree: "Women unconsciously select men with strong genes to father their children and this [eating hot food] is a ritual equivalent to chest-bashing or antler-locking. He feels admired, she feels she is with someone who is strong, tolerant, capable and keen to impress her; it ticks all the right boxes."

How do we handle the hot stuff?
So maybe eating hot food might actually help you to impress people. But let's be honest here, even if we'd told you that it wouldn't, was it really going to stop you from ordering the hottest dish on the menu next time you're out with your mates? We thought not.

In order to give you the upper hand, here are a few tips to help you turn up the heat the next time you wind up in a fiery food face-off.

"You probably know the basics by now, only milk products like yoghurt or sour cream will cool down your mouth, but water will have no real effect," says Jan Rasmussen, founder of Mission Burrito, who knows a thing or two about hot food after opening a chain of Mexican eateries.

"Don't let the chilli touch your lips and you've survived 50% of the experience," he continues. "Lips will tingle, burn and even physically blister very easily. And remember to wash your hands as soon as possible - touching your eyes or going to the toilet can be much worse than the eating of chillies."

Jan also tells me that capsaicin, the active chemical that gives chillies their heat, dissolves in fat. So a sneaky trick for those wanting to handle hotter food is to chew secretly a lump of cold butter before tackling any particularly potent dishes. This will help to coat your tongue and the roof of your mouth, helping you to look hard, even in the face of the hottest of foods.

Another tip from the top comes from Vivek Singh, executive chef at London Indian eatery The Cinammon Club. Singh's suggestion? "Never have hot food on an empty stomach - always have something before, even if it's just toast."

There you have it. The secret to upping your spice tolerance is toast and butter, who knew?

So if you are going to try and impress people by feasting on fiery food remember that one, it probably won't work and two, to make sure you've had your breakfast.

Have you ever tried to impress someone by eating spicy food? What's your tip for putting out hot food fire? Let us know in the comments section below.

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User comments
I have eaten chillies for about 27 years now and at no stage did I eat them too impress others or or acting macho. My old man got me hooked when he tricked me in to tasting one when I was about 12. They become very addictive and you try to make each meal hotter. I find it hard to eat casseroles and stews without the addition of my own homemade chilli sauce. Admittedly I don't make them as hot as I used to as the next morning is not gracious on me when the battery acid begins to burble inside the stomach! When I used to eat lip numbing hot food I always followed it with a cold lager which I found worked. Couldn't live without them