What is it about Sriracha hot sauce that makes us obsessed with it? It is after all just hot sauce, right?
Made up of fresh ground red chile peppers, vinegar, garlic, salt and sugar, there's nothing extraordinary about Sriracha. What is extraordinary about it is what happens when you eat it.
This straightforward video from the "Reactions" series by the American Chemical Society explains what happens when we eat Sriracha, breaking it down to its most important ingredient: the chile pepper.
In the chiles there is a group of molecules called capsaicinoids, these trigger that spicy, hot, burning sensation we get in our mouths when we eat foods with chiles. In fact, it's no more than a trigger: our mouths aren't actually being burned, but our brain thinks that we have tasted something scalding because the same receptor that is activated by high temperatures, TRPV1, is activated by the capsaicinoids. When we feel this hot, scalding sensation, our body reacts accordingly.
The response to that scalding sensation is a release of endorphins, our body's way of allowing us to deal with pain. This is similar to what your body does on a long run. And what do runner's always talk about? A runner's high. In a sense, thanks to the release of endorphins, the runner's high and the Sriracha high are one in the same. Our body feels good after eating hot sauce.
So it's no surprise you keep hitting the Sriracha bottle. For a little bit of pain you get a bit of pleasure. Fortunately, you don't have to worry about developing any debilitating addictions; capsaicin isn't known to have any addictive qualities. Your brain however, might really enjoy that endorphin release, leading you to take just another Sriracha hit. At least you can make your own at home.
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Image: Au Kirk