Certain aspects of an individual’s personality may be a
determining factor in whether they like their food plain and bland or spicy and
hot, according to research presented at the 2013 Institute of Food
Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo®.
Nadia Byrnes, MS, a doctoral candidate at Pennsylvania State
University, presented her research that set out to determine whether there was
a correlation between personality types and hot-spice preferences. She
conducted a study of 184 participants, non-smokers ages 18 to 45, without any
known issues that would compromise their ability to taste, primarily Caucasian
and slightly more women than men (63%).
Byrnes assessed the group using the Arnett Inventory of
Sensation Seeking (AISS), a test for the personality trait of
sensation-seeking, defined as desiring novel and intense stimulation and
presumed to contribute to risk preferences. Those in the group who score above
the mean AISS score are considered more open to risks and new experiences,
while those scoring below the mean are considered less open to those things.
The subjects were given 25 micrometers of capsaicin, the
active component of chilli peppers, and asked to rate how much they liked a
spicy meal as the burn from the capsaicin increased in intensity. Those in the
group who fell below the mean AISS rapidly disliked the meal as the burn
increased. People who were above the mean AISS had a consistently high liking
of the meal even as the burn increased. Those in the mean group liked the meal
less as the burn increased, but not nearly as rapidly as those below the mean.
“Theoretically, we know that burn intensity and liking are
linear related. The more irritating a compound or food gets, the less people
should like it,” she said. “But that’s not always the case.”
Also on the same panel, Shane McDonald, PhD , principal
flavour chemist at Kalsec, discussed the addition of “tingling” spices to foods,
which is not very prevalent in the US diet outside of carbonation. He said "Ma La",
a traditional Szechuan cuisine that combines chili peppers (the heat) and
Szechuan peppers (the tingle), shows promise for American food manufacturers.
The combination of the two sensates enhances the tingling
while reducing the heat, which could make certain traditionally spicy foods
more appealing to consumers, he said.