Anyone who’s ever been on a first date understands that trying to eat while pretending to be someone the other person might not find repellent is a tricky process. To make matters worse (because things can always be worse), in a moment of paralysing anxiety, you said yes when the waiter asked if you wanted it “extra spicy.”
Dude, you have acid reflux, why did you do this to yourself?
According to science, there are a few reasons, the first of which simply has to do with having more of the manly hormone — testosterone. In 2014, The Telegraph reported that scientists at the University of Grenoble in France measured the testosterone levels of participants in a study via saliva samples, before offering various foods to the participants. They found that the men who added the most hot sauce to their plate of mashed potatoes had the highest levels of testosterone. “These results are in line with a lot of research showing a link between testosterone and financial, sexual and behavioural risk-taking,” Laurent Begue, one of the authors of the study, told The Telegraph.
All of which sort of makes sense: More testosterone means more willingness to take risks, and also more inclination to demonstrate one’s manliness. But none of that actually suggests men enjoy the spicy food they’re ordering — indeed, it’s quite likely that they don’t. According to a 2015 study from the Penn State University, while men were more likely to say they like eating spicy food, women were far more likely to actually enjoy it.
As explained by GQ, 246 participants took a personality test and answered questions about their favourite foods, ranging from BBQ to Asian food. Afterward, they tasted different flavours, including capsaicin (the chemical that gives peppers their spicy kick). While far more men reported enjoying spicy food than women, the results from the taste test revealed the opposite to be true. “In the study, the researchers conclude that women are more likely to seek sensation from spicy food, while men are more likely to see other extrinsic rewards like praise and admiration. The authors write, ‘It is possible that the cultural association of consuming spicy foods with strength and machismo has created a learned social reward for men,’” The Cut reported in 2015.
In other words, if you’re a guy and your date is a woman, and she orders the super spicy wings, it’s because she genuinely enjoys eating them, rather than because she watched Anthony Bourdain eat them with the same placidity that most people would a soybean.
In fact, if you’re a guy on a date with a woman who orders the super spicy wings, it could well be a good thing (provided you don’t be a dummy and turn it into a competition): The simple fact that she ordered the habañero chicken fajitas could be the only reason she considers going on a second date with you.
That’s according to a recent study from the St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, which showed that women who had just eaten spicy food found men one-fifth better-looking. “A spicy flavour was found to increase romantic interest as well as physical-attractiveness ratings,” wrote the researchers, as reported by The Daily Mail. “It supports the suggestion that sensory experiences, in this case taste, can influence cognitive perceptions regarding potential relationships.” In other words, because words like “hot” are used to describe both spicy food and attractiveness, it could help crystallise thoughts about starting a romantic relationship.
Now, this may sound a bit iffy, but let’s face the facts: You’re willing to believe any science that could potentially help you find “the one” — even if it’s just so you can stop ordering the extra spicy Jambalaya, for your rectum’s sake.