Hot sauce is having a moment. According to Google Trends, which tracks how many people are searching for a particular keyword over time, hot sauce has steadily been gaining popularity since 2004.
We’ve already written about why you might be craving hot sauce, but why do so many people like hot sauce in the first place? It turns out, those have very different answers. Here are some reasons you might love hot sauce!
You’re a Thrill Seeker
Surprisingly, there have been a few studies about why people like hot sauce! A study in the 1980s conducted by Paul Rozin at the University of Pennsylvania found a correlation between enjoying roller coasters and enjoying spicy food.
In the 1982 study, Rozin calls enjoying spicy food “benign masochism.” After all, eating spicy food literally tricks your brain into thinking you’re in pain. Rozin also points out that humans are the only known animals that eat spicy food because we like the taste.
Humans are also the only animals who, as far as we know, like to put ourselves in other safe-but-scary-or-painful situations. Think roller coasters, scary movies, haunted houses, skydiving, and bungee jumping. These are all ways some people get a physical or emotional thrill with relatively little risk of actually being hurt.
Psychologists call this thrill seeking “Sensation Seeking.” A 2013 study similarly found a positive correlation between those who enjoy spicy food like hot sauce and higher “Sensation Seeking” traits.
You Have a High Sensitivity to Rewards.
That 2013 study also found a positive correlation between liking spicy food and Sensitivity to Reward. According to the US National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, “Sensitivity to reward refers to the degree to which an individual’s behavior is motivated by reward-relevant stimuli.” In other words, you’re more motivated by rewards than fear of punishment.
So, what does this have to do with hot sauce? As we’ve mentioned in our article about why you might be craving hot sauce, when you eat something spicy, your body actually thinks you’re in pain. As a result, your brain floods with endorphins, which gives you overall good vibes and feelings.
Those who are more sensitive to punishment might see spicy food and be put off because they know it’ll hurt in the short term. Those with high sensitivity to rewards might be more willing to look past the pain for the endorphins at the end of the tunnel.
You Want to Prove Your Manliness (or You’re Super Competitive)
Going back to that 2013 study one last time, the researchers saw an interesting divide in why women and men go for hot sauce. As it turns out, their motivations might not be the same.
According to the study, women seemed more likely to enjoy hot sauce for the burn and the endorphins on their own. Men were more likely to see hot sauce as a challenge. “It is possible that the cultural association of consuming spicy foods with strength and machismo has created a learned social reward for men,” according to the study.
While we don’t personally make hot sauce with the goal of helping you prove your brute strength, there are plenty of hot sauces out there that’ll have you begging for mercy. After all, isn’t that kind of the point of the show Hot Ones?
You’ve Been Exposed to it for Years
Moving away from the psychology of hot sauce, a lot of people like spicy food because they’ve been exposed to it for a long time.
If you grew up with a family or in a culture that likes to add hot sauce and spice to food, chances are you’re going to enjoy that well into adulthood. You might find that all food tastes bland without a little heat, or you might turn to hot sauce when you want a little more comfort with your meal.
But you don’t have to be exposed to spicy food from the womb to enjoy it later in life. Any slow exposure to hot sauce could eventually lead to a life-long love of all that is heat. Whether that exposure started in childhood or through a friend in your 30s, consistent exposure to spicy food might make you love it for sentimental reasons.
You Love an Easy Way to Add Flavor
At Secret Aardvark, we love heat. But more than anything, we love flavor. We’ve always seen hot sauce as something that should add flavor to your food, not cover up flavor. And our fans seem to agree.