Let’s face it, you’re either a heat person or not. Some people can’t handle Tobasco sauce that is on the tables of every diner in America while some people are forever looking for the next hottest sauce or pepper…for the thrill of it.
We liken it to those who are thrill seekers – for the adrenaline rush – and those who would rather sit and watch the thrill seekers. There’s something to that theory, actually. People who are drawn to hot, spicy foods such as chili, salsa, hot sauce, etc., actually get a thrill and a euphoric feeling much like an adrenaline rush.
Capsaicin is present in large quantities in the placental tissue (which holds the seeds), the internal membranes and, to a lesser extent, the other fleshy parts of the fruits of plants in the genus Capsicum. The seeds themselves do not produce any capsaicin, although the highest concentration of capsaicin can be found in the white pith of the inner wall, where the seeds are attached.
The seeds of Capsicum plants are dispersed predominantly by birds: in birds, the TRPV1 channel does not respond to capsaicin or related chemicals (avian vs. mammalian TRPV1 show functional diversity and selective sensitivity). This is advantageous to the plant, as chili pepper seeds consumed by birds pass through the digestive tract and can germinate later, whereas mammals have molar teeth which destroy such seeds and prevent them from germinating. Thus, natural selection may have led to increasing capsaicin production because it makes the plant less likely to be eaten by animals that do not help it disperse. There is also evidence that capsaicin may have evolved as an anti-fungal agent: the fungal pathogen Fusarium, which is known to infect wild chilies and thereby reduce seed viability, is deterred by capsaicin, which thus limits this form of predispersal seed mortality.
In 2006, it was discovered that the venom of a certain tarantula species activates the same pathway of pain as is activated by capsaicin; this was the first demonstrated case of such a shared pathway in both plant and animal anti-mammal defense.
Capsaicin is also an active ingredient in riot control and personal defense pepper spray agents. When the spray comes in contact with skin, especially eyes or mucous membranes, it produces pain and breathing difficulty, discouraging assailants. U.S. Grade Police Pepper Spray clocks in at 5.3 million Scoville Heat Units while standard Consumer Grade Pepper Spray is typically in the 2 million Scoville Heat Units range or about the average Carolina Reaper type of heat…in someone’s eyeballs. Ouch.