For the For the love of love of by Crystal Han . Images by Illroy Hot Sauce
W hen Rory Pete II , creator of Illroy Hot Sauce in Gilroy , had to give up spicy food due to acid reflux , it was the most miserable time of his life . So miserable , in fact , that he decided he was going to keep eating spicy food regardless . Rory isn ’ t alone . For many people , spiciness is as important as food itself . But why ? Why do some people love the burn while others think it ’ s too much ?
The distinct burning pain caused by chili peppers has given rise to a number of misconceptions . Some say it can burn holes in your stomach , cause ulcers , or kill your tastebuds . In reality , that burning sensation is just a trick of the brain and poses no physical harm to a well-functioning digestive system . Capsaicin , the chemical component that gives chili peppers their kick , excites the pain receptors in our mouths responsible for telling us when something is hot . It gets our brains to scream “ fire !” even though there isn ’ t one .
People who deliberately induce this pain response by eating spicy food engage in a behavior called “ benign masochism ” according to Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania . Intellectually , we know that we ’ re safe , but our brain behaves like we ’ re in danger — sweating , faster heart rate , watering eyes , runny nose — resulting in an endorphin rush . We get a similar experience from a runner ’ s high or watching horror films . It ’ s the sensation of triumphing over danger without the actual danger , a feeling Rory knows all too well . “ It makes you feel accomplished . Like , ‘ yeah , I did it !’ And then you ’ re like , ‘ do I do it again , though ?’” he laughed , “ Chances are I ’ ll probably do it again .”
It is often thought that loving spiciness is tied to an adventurous , thrill-seeking personality . While there is no definitive proof of this , research reported by the National Library of Medicine found a correlation between chili lovers and sensitivity to reward and sensation seeking personality traits . Sensation seekers care more about the feeling of an experience . They use their bodies to test the limits , push themselves , and feel something intense . Sensitivity to reward , on the other hand , is about the attention received from peers , or the “ machismo ” perception of strength from enduring the pain .
One or both of these traits can come into play for a person ’ s love of spiciness . This holds true for Rory , who describes doing hot sauce challenges with his friends to “ be macho and show off a bit ,” but ultimately preferring spicy food for the experience . “ For me , I love spicy food , but it has to taste good . The additive of spice into already good food kind of opens up your pallet and helps elevate things ,” he explained . So much so that he pairs hot sauces with different foods the way wine connoisseurs pair wines with certain meals .
But what starts us on the path to loving spiciness in the first place ? For that , we have nature and nurture to blame . An international study of spice use in cooking done by biologists at Cornell University found that spicy cuisine was linked to hotter climates . Places like Thailand , the Philippines , India , and Malaysia were at the top of the spicy food / hot climate list , while cold places like Sweden , Finland , and Norway were at the bottom . Hotter climates are known for having a greater prevalence of bacteria , and Cornell researchers found that the capsaicin in hot peppers kill or inhibit up to 75 percent of bacteria and fungi . Before refrigeration , food-borne microbes were an even more serious threat than they are today , and regions that used capsaicin in their food had more protection from these illnesses . Paul W . Sherman , an evolutionary biologist and professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University , explained , “ traits that are beneficial are transmitted both culturally and genetically , and that includes taste receptors in our mouths and taste for certain flavors . People who enjoyed food with antibacterial spices probably were healthier , especially in hot climates . They lived longer and left more offspring .”
The same correlation can be seen in places like America , where states with hotter climates tend towards hotter cuisine , while colder areas have milder foods . The origins of Rory ’ s love of spiciness fit with this as well , “ My dad ’ s from Louisiana and spicy food has always been a thing for him . I would eat his food , and it always had some kind of hot sauce in it . I don ’ t remember not liking it , honestly .”
Now that the days are hotter , it ’ s the perfect time for chili lovers to shine . For that , Rory Pete II has you covered . He has created an orange hot sauce reminiscent of the ones found in his favorite Mexican restaurants in San Jose . His blend is unique , keeping people with diabetes or high blood pressure in mind . “ I ’ m sure there ’ s a lot of people who can ’ t have hot sauce because it has too much salt or sugar . So I got rid of it so that everyone can have it ,” he said .
So far , his business is still small , but he intends to get his Illroy Hot Sauce to as many people as possible . After all , great accomplishments begin with a fiery heart .
10 SUMMER 2022 gmhTODAY Magazine gmhtoday . com