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How do Humans Taste Spice?

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

Author: Ellie Wang

Editors: Vincent Chang and Liane Xu

Artist: Denise Suárez

Of all the mammals living on this planet, humans and tree shrews are the only two that enjoy eating spicy foods. The reason why we like spice is a question for another day. What’s answered here is how humans taste the spice and what measurements quantify it.

Despite the term “tasting spice”, our taste buds aren’t the structures that detect capsaicin, the chemical compound that causes the hot feeling of spicy foods. The tongue, mouth, and throat contain Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid subtype 1, or TRPV1. This ion channel is found in sensory neurons throughout our body for detecting temperatures above 42 degrees Celsius and harmful acid. Once it does, it sends signals to the brain,