Do we eat hot curries because we like them, or do we grow to like them because we eat them? A new paper "Does Exposure Enhance the Liking for the Chilli Burn" (by Richard Stevenson and Martin Yeomans, Appetite, 1995, 24, 107-20) throws some light on the question.

Previous research had suggested that liking for the sensation of chilli burn may be connected with an enhanced appreciation of the food that it flavours, or it may be due to "receptor desentisation" numbing the taste buds, or there may even be an element of "benign masochism".

In the current experiment, subjects who were not normally chilli eaters, but who expressed no strong liking or dislike for it, were fed with portions of tinned ratatouille containing either a moderate or high dose of Capsaicin, the active ingredient of chilli. They were then asked to assess the strength and pleasantness of the burn.

Results showed that as the experiments progressed, the assessed pleasantness of the burning feeling increased, but the assessments of the strength of the burning sensation did not decrease as had been predicted.

The experiment therefore supports the view that exposure to chilli increases liking for it. But it didn't work when they used orange juice instead of ratatouille. More research is clearly needed.