Will spicy food affect my sense of taste?

Nov 21, 2012

Q: I love to eat extremely spicy Indian food, but have been warned that doing so may dull my palate over time. Is it detrimental over time to the refinement of one’s palate to eat spicy foods? –Jonathan, Barcelona, Spain

A:There hasn't been much research regarding the topic, specifically the long-term effects, but according to Bruce Byrant, senior research associate at Monell Chemical Senses Center, your tasting ability shouldn't be affected by eating spicy foods, such as chile peppers. Flavor perception is a composite sensation made up of taste, smell and chemesthesis (a chemically induced sensation), explains Bryant. Capsaicin, the active component of chiles, does not affect your sense of smell or your taste buds, but rather the pain fibers on the tongue, which surround your taste buds.

Spicy food can deaden the pain receptors after long or strong exposures, but the receptors will regenerate. People who eat a lot of spicy food either adapt to the heat by increasing their tolerance for pain or lose some of the nerve endings that are sensitive to capsaicin, but this shouldn’t affect perception of wine. According to Bryant, “People often confuse the inability to taste with spicy food because the tremendous burn takes attention away from taste and smell, much the same way that food would probably not taste as good for a while after you dropped a brick on your toe.”

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