Have you ever noticed that when you eat hot chili it dulls the flavors of other things? In this Moment of Science we explain why that is.
For those of you who dislike chili, it’s probably because the hotness takes all the pleasure out of eating. Your tongue starts to feel like it’s on fire, and most importantly, you can’t taste anything.
A series of rather painful tests has shown that chili does indeed suppress one’s ability to experience certain flavors. A chemical in chili, called capsaicin, seems to affect one’s ability to taste sourness, sweetness, and bitterness.
While capsaicin does affect one’s ability to taste certain flavors, just because some people’s taste buds are being inundated with capsaicin doesn’t mean they’re necessarily losing out on flavor. For instance, one of the ways that cooks take advantage of this information about capsaicin is by using chili in dishes in order to intentionally reduce the bitterness of certain foods; that is, to make them taste better.