The heat of chile peppers or the heat of passion? For a long time, the former has been said to aid the latter. Almost everything either pungent or hard to acquire has been declared an aphrodisiac at one point or another, but in this case there is a case for it.
South America (home to so many aphrodisiac legends) has numerous tales about using the spicy fruit for amorous encounters. And Dr. John Kellogg (medical doctor, holistic nutritionist, corn flake inventor, oddball) warned nymphomaniacs to avoid peppers altogether.
Capsaicin, the chemical that lights one’s tongue on fire has several internal effects as well. Most useful to students of aphrodisia are the following:
- Increased and improved circulation, most notably on the skin.
- Increased perspiration as the pores open up.
The net effect is to increase apparent body temperature. What use is that? Consider the misplaced effect of a movie:
A couple watches a scary movie, for example. The heart jumps, adrenaline surges, etc. Afterward, the effects of the movie linger, and the apparent cause is the company one is keeping. Conscious or not, the results are real. Useful thing to know, no?
There are many aphrodisiacs and near-aphrodisiacs that work on this principle in one way or another. The very dangerous Spanish Fly is perhaps the most (in)famous of them, and chile peppers are among the most innocuous. Increased body heat is a normal reaction to arousal, the body taking a cue from the mind. It turns out that the roles can be reversed, and the mind will follow the body’s lead. At the very least, the charge of flavor is similar to the fun and excitement of one’s lover, and that’s a good thing.
An additional effect of the capsaicin is a euphoria: a heightened sense of energy and even elation. This is usually attributed to a production of endorphins caused, apparently, by the pain receptors objecting to the capsaicin’s irritation. When I looked for more information about this, I found a lot of articles referencing each other. It would appear that even the endorphin production is pretty much a guess, and its cause even more so. Very strange.
Though I enjoy spicy foods, and generally specify “Thai hot” when at a Thai restaurant, that euphoria is nothing like reliable, and sometimes appears in less spicy food than in some spicier items that did not cause it. I decided to perform an experiment. Caterers often place yellow hot peppers on the edges of cold cut trays, mostly for decoration so far as I can tell. At an event which included these, I ate a few of them, rapidly enough to sense very little of the heat from them. Several minutes later, the euphoria made its appearance.
My best guess is that the blood vessel-relaxing properties of the capsaicin is actually responsible for the effect. It’s an indirect effect as aphrodisiacs go, but it’s definitely both useful and noticeable.