The Real Reason Not Everyone Can Handle Spicy Food

It's no secret that some people can enjoy and tolerate spicy foods more than others. When you eat spicy foods, the taste receptors on your tongue become irritated by the capsaicinoids, the source of heat in peppers, per Eat This, Not That!. The receptors trick your brain into thinking you're tasting something hot, even though your buds don't actually taste the heat. As a result, some people can experience an unpleasant burning feeling in their mouths after eating something spicy, among other side effects. Capsaicinoids can also irritate the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, and throat, which can lead to sneezing, watery eyes, and a runny nose.

However, not everyone will experience the same reaction. Many people actually enjoy eating spicy foods as they have a higher tolerance for them. That's because everyone's experiences and sensory perceptions are different, reports Eat This, Not That!. "The spiciness from different foods is based on the individual food's heat index, as well as a person's individual taste receptors," Maya Feller, registered dietitian, told the outlet. "So one person may be incredibly sensitive, [whereas] another finds a scotch bonnet pepper as mild as a bell pepper."

You can train your tongue to tolerate spicy foods

Of course, spicy food tolerance is largely influenced by culture and personal preference, according to Thrillist. If you grow up eating spicy foods from a young age, you will most likely build up a higher tolerance for it, compared to those who are less familiar with certain peppers and spices. However, it's never too late to learn to train your tongue. If you're looking to build up your tolerance, you can gradually start incorporating spicy foods into your diet.

"As a nation, we are trending toward more spicy foods. You can see it in Doritos. They keep amping up the spice level with capsaicin," Chef Bill Phillips, a spicy foods expert and associate professor at the Culinary Institute of America, told Thrillist. "People are also breeding chilies and creating hotter and hotter hot sauces with capsaicin extract." Before you can comfortably tolerate foods with higher concentrations of capsaicin, however, Chef Phillips advises that you start eating banana peppers and poblanos in regular and small amounts. Once you feel more comfortable eating milder peppers, you can move on to spicier options, like jalapeños, serranos, or tabasco. With commitment, you may increase your tolerance for spicy foods slowly and over time.