Not all spice is created equal. There's the tingle-your-tongue kind—and then there's the kind that makes you want to drink from a fire hose. (Interesting fact: water is the last thing you want to drink when you've eaten something spicy. See step one.)
Take horseradish, wasabi, Chinese mustard, ginger, onion, garlic, and black pepper, for example. They're spicy spices and condiments, but their hot flavor quickly fades. Mild peppers, such as jalapenos, have a little more kick, but nothing that will knock you out. Now hot chili peppers—think: habanero or scorpion—are really hot. They contain capsaicin, a chemical compound that will basically set your mouth on fire.
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Eating capsaicin irritates our mouths, throats, and stomachs; makes us sweat, our eyes water, and our noses run; and, if we touch it to our bare skin, it can even cause rashes and burns. Yet some people, dubbed chili heads, enjoy the blazing experience because exposure to capsaicin also releases endorphins, says Rich Orr, research and development director of Dave's Gourmet, including its fiery foods division.