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Pass the hot sauce, please. 

Corey Williams
September 19, 2018

If you’ve ever felt you’re mood boost after enjoying a spicy meal, you’ve got capsaicin to thank.

What we think of as “spiciness” is not actually a taste, but a sensation, according to Helix, a magazine published by Northwestern University.

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The burning you feel after eating something spicy is caused by compounds known as capsaicinoids, the most well-known of which is capsaicin. Surprisingly, there are no taste buds associated with capsaicinoids.

These compounds cause your brain to think it is being burned, when there is actually no heat present.

So why in the world do we crave this sensation?

When you’re body thinks it’s in pain, it produces endorphins. Endorphins block the nerves’ ability to transmit pain signals, acting as a natural pain reliever. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, is also released.

In short, eating spicy foods can trigger something similar to a “runner’s high.”

So, try cooking up some of these spicy recipes next time you feel a little down in the dumps:

Spicy Thai Coconut Chicken Soup

The coconut milk brings down the spiciness level a bit, but the chile paste definitely packs the heat.

Fettuccine With Spicy Zucchini-Tomato Sauce

Feel free to play around with the red pepper—add as much or as little as you see fit.

Spicy Southwestern Black Bean Chili

Bonus points for adding fresh jalapeños.

Sweet-Spicy Fried Chicken

Hot sauce and cayenne pepper make this dish heavy on the capsaicin.

Check out our collection of Hot and Spicy Dishes for even more recipes that bring the heat.

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