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Tolerance to Spiciness: Is it born or bred?


Tolerance to Spiciness: Is it born or bred?


How often have you heard ‘that’s too spicy’ or ‘I can’t take spicy food’? We’ve also heard crazy things such as adding a whole spoon of chilli padi into a small bowl of fish ball noodles will make it yummier.

What’s your spice level?

How do chilli lovers amp up their scoville scale (scovilles are used to measure spice level) while others cringe and tear up by just smelling spiciness?

Yes – smelling! First things first, SPICINESS is not a taste, it is a sensation.

Craving for some spice? Try this quick and easy Sambal Petai with Prawns recipe!

Busting the myth

Our taste buds can’t pick up flavours other than salty, sour, bitter and sweet. This is of course contrary to the 101 of Chinese cooking 101 where it is important to find the harmony of the key 5 flavours in taste – salty, sour, sweet, bitter, AND spicy!

The feeling of not being able to take spiciness actually refers more to the experience of sweating, tearing up, feeling numbness or feeling your tongue/lips burn. In essence – the Chinese philosophy in cooking is emphasising the physical experience!

What’s my take on this? Tolerance to spiciness is BRED!

Taste Buds are part of our survival kit

Besides actually tasting food, our taste buds help us to detect foul food. That’s how we identify food that has gone bad! As we evolved, our taste buds have heightened to pinpoint certain ingredients that might ruin or improve a dish.

Now that’s way beyond salt, sweet, sour or bitter!

Food Trivia
Your tongue is as unique as fingerprints! Researchers are trying to use it as a biometric authenticator. Imagine using our tongues for identification at the airport immigration! Cool but ew…

If it’s bred – can I train for my next Curry Devil?

We are all born with capsaicin receptors that allow us to feel pain. After eating spicy food often, the receptors become used to it, making you more tolerant. Those with higher pain tolerance might even enjoy the pain that spiciness brings.

If you watch taste test videos, contestants often get confused when they lose their sense of smell. If you have a cold, you usually find that food tastes bland.

Your brain tells you the flavour of food based on your tastebuds AND smell!

Food Trivia
Your taste buds are not only on your tongue. There are other taste cells at the back of our throat, nose, and all the way down your oesophagus. (The long tube before the stomach)

Am I born with it?

Although most people believe that it is all about training, a study showed that our preference to spiciness IS affected by our genetics. 

The saying goes ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, and in my opinion, if the village is receptive to spicy food then the kid will to learn to eat it. Are you born with it? I don’t think so, because I think you were to born into a community to love it or hate it.


Written by Carissa Wong


Enjoy spicy food or want to up your tolerance? Get ready for Beef Rendang!


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