The spicy flavors and aromas many eaters crave are actually meant to deter predators from eating the plants that provide them. So why does this line of defense work against most animals, but seem so attractive to humans? In this video from Mind of a Chef, author Harold McGee offers an explanation.
"The reason human beings love them so much is that we've learned how to use them to enrich the flavors of our foods," McGee says. "We transform them by heating them, rounding out their flavors, getting rid of some of the harshness."
McGee goes on to explain that while knowledge of spices is vast, no one knows why they make us feel the way they do.
"We know a fair amount about what happens when we cook with spices," McGee says. "But once they go into the dish and once the dish goes into our mouth, we have have no idea, really. ... How our brain processes all that, how we make sense of all that, that's still a mystery."