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Love Hot Sauce? Your Personality May Be A Good Predictor

Are you drawn to heat in your meals? Maybe it's your thrill-seeking personality at play — or your gender.
Alan Turkis/Flickr
Are you drawn to heat in your meals? Maybe it's your thrill-seeking personality at play — or your gender.

A Myers-Briggs personality test can help you determine whether you're an extrovert. But could your love of hot sauce reveal something about your temperament, too?

As we have reported, back in the 1980s, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania named Paul Rozin documented a connection between liking roller coasters and liking spicy food.

More recently, a group of researchers at Penn State has shown that personality seems to be a significant player in our lust for heat or spice in our food. One study found that people who were most inclined to enjoy action movies, adventure-seeking and exploration were about six times more likely to enjoy the burn of a spicy meal.

"I was absolutely stunned that the relationship was as strong as we found," researcher John Hayes told us when the study waspublished a few years back.

Now Hayes and his colleague Nadia Byrnes have published new research this month that builds on the evidence that there's a connection here.

However, the new study, which appears in the journal Food Quality and Preference, points to key gender differences.

Women who like spicy foods, it turns out, may be more drawn to the sting — that burn in the throat — more than their male counterparts.

For men, the machismo factor — the idea that tough men should be able to withstand the heat — seems to play a role. "It is possible that the cultural association of consuming spicy foods with strength and machismo has created a learned social reward for men," the paper concludes.

Whatever your personality or motivation, here are some tips if you want to jump into the hot sauce craze. (Note: We first compiled these tips in 2012.)

1. Easy does it.

"Add several drops into food while you are cooking," says Tony Simmons, president of McIlhenny Co., maker of the iconic Tabasco sauce. "The heat will not come through, but the flavor will."

2. Start with mild sauces that help you focus on flavor, not heat.

Scott Roberts, creator of an eponymous blog popular with chili-heads. On his site, you'll also find his Scoville Scale Chart for Hot Chile Peppers and Hot Sauces.

He says if you know someone who believes hot sauce exists only to burn your mouth, then have that person try Georgia Peach and Vidalia Onion Hot Sauce. "Give her some of this, and she will completely change her mind," he says.

3. Create your own condiment with hints of heat.

"Commingle sriracha with mayo," says Peter Moore, editor of Men's Health, who describes it as creamy goodness with a spark of bite. "Awesome spread for a bland turkey sandwich."

4. Exposure, exposure

Keep trying it, says Washington food writer Nycci Nellis, and you likely will be able to build up your tolerance.

"I started with Uncle Brutha's green hot sauce, which is a mild sauce that lends a subtle smoke," Nellis told me. "Now I regularly use sriracha, aka rooster sauce, and other, more intense hot sauces in my cooking."

5. Taste before you douse.

Don't ruin your food by dousing it in a hot sauce you've never tried, says John Snedden of Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company.

"Before you take a bite of anything, dip your fork into the hot sauce," says Paul Kita, a.k.a. Guy Gourmet. If you put a tiny bit on the tine of your fork and give it a taste, you'll be able to gauge the heat. "This way, you're reducing the risk of taking a tongue-searing bit of heat."

6. Respect the peppers that are too hot for you.

"It's fairly easy to take steps up the ladder of heat," says John Hard of Cajohns Fiery Foods. He's collaborated with folks at the Chile Pepper Institute to introduce sauces made from some of the hottest peppers on the planet.

"Remember, habanero is just the start of the upper echelon of heat!" says Hard.

Note: The audio attached to this story first aired on May 3, 2012.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.