Black Pepper is not Spicy

When I make the comment that Austria and Germany do not know how to make spicy food, most Austrians respond “you can always make it spicy by adding (ground) pepper”.   (I am referring to a general phenomena here … this is not one isolated incident that I am talking about.)  It is then I realize that they just don’t know spicy.  Black pepper is not spicy.  But, that leaves me to think … what is pepper?  How would you describe the taste that it gives food?  The best I can come up with is “peppery.”

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4 Responses to “Black Pepper is not Spicy”

  1. Terese Fasy Says:

    Hey Brit! Funny – I can’t think of a way to describe the taste either! Have a wonderful time with the Soroka’s and Doughboy!]

    Love,
    Mom

  2. bfasy Says:

    Don’t worry … we already took one picture with Doughboy, and he is still incognito.

  3. Your Friendly Neighborhood Biology Teacher Says:

    Actually, black pepper is spicy. Spiciness is a chemical reaction – basically you feel burning in your mouth. It is not a flavor. Sure, there are flavors associated with spiciness – but “spicy” does not have a flavor; it is a degree of “chemical burning in the mouth”. Have you ever eaten something and thought “Oh, this is going to be spicy!” but as you waited for that spicy kick to set it – you were disappointed? That’s because you tasted *flavors* you associated with “spicy” – but the item didn’t actually have any spiciness. So, remember that “spicy” is not actually a flavor, but rather a sensation.

    You may not be able to “feel the burn” of ground black pepper, but some people can. It’s easier with whole pepper corns, freshly cracked, but some people just can’t seem to sense the burn of black pepper at all. Yet other people, like me, can feel the burn of even just cheap tinned ground black pepper. If I put just a little in my mouth, with no food, it burns, A LOT.

    It may be because most spicy things use CAPSAICIN to cause “the burn,” but peppercorns use a different chemical called PIPERINE. By weight, piperine is only 1% as “hot” (burn causing) as capsaicin. Thus, it makes sense that many people do not think black ground pepper is “spicy.”

    It could be a matter of diet, much like eating more salt makes you less able to taste salt. We know the brain is capable of turning off pain when over-exposed to pain. Perhaps eating a lot of pepper causes your brain to stop telling you that your mouth is burning. Or, perhaps it is a genetic difference that allows some to perceive it better than others. These people may even be more sensitive in general to spiciness – thus explaining your experience that a certain part of the world seems to think adding black pepper makes things spicy. Actually… I am mostly of German/Austrian descent. Hmmm… What an interesting proposal; someone should do a study…

  4. KerriJ Says:

    I can most certainly feel the burn that black peppers provide. It’s so awful that I can’t taste any actual flavors if I eat anything with black pepper on it. It’s the same reaction as if I were eating a jalapeno.

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