Humans like spicy food, and that affinity seems to be growing. What once was an affection reserved for certain cultures is now popping up on menus all over the globe. Especially in America. Chili sauce — Sriracha, Tabasco, Tapatio, Cholula — you name it, we love it.

But why?

Our love of spice is a matter of conditioning. The human animal is the only living species that will gravitate towards a spicy dish over something mild. Many studies have been done in a variety of controlled conditions, and animals will never choose spicy food first. Spice hurts, but we learn to love it.

What does this say about us?

Quite simply. We find pleasure in pain.

In the human brain, pleasure and aversion closely overlap. Scary movies, thrills of all sorts, tattoos, piercings: There are so many affections we have as a species that are painful. Sexual behaviors most definitely included. This love of pain isn’t some psychological tendency to torture ourselves. It runs much deeper and is 100% chemical.

Both pleasure and pain rely on nerves in the brainstem, affecting dopamine neurons, shaping our motivation. In our brain, they are on the same continuum and activate similar areas that affect our perceptions. On some level, they are one in the same – and in the end, the both provide a sense of relief. The pain from spicy food is also unique in that it is derived from the chemical compound capsaicin, a known pain reliever.

Dr. Paul Rozin, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, has done some of the most extensive studies on the subject. His conclusion: “For some reason apparently unrelated to survival, humans condition themselves to make an aversion gratifying.”

There you have it.

In celebration of spice, we’re kicking our culinary efforts up a notch and making our favorite Sour and Spicy soup, Tom Yum. It is the perfect soup to transition into the spring season, with only a light broth with tons of immune boosting ingredients. The heat can also be adjusted according to your flavor preference (in truth, we don’t like it too hot). It’s easy to make and so so good to eat!



  • 8 cups bone broth or vegetable stock
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 stalks fresh lemongrass, sliced into 2-inch long pieces
  • 2 inch piece fresh galangal or ginger, sliced
  • 3-5 Thai chile peppers, pounded to release flavor
  • 2 tablespoons nama shoyu or tamari
  • 1 teaspoon coconut sugar or a few drops of stevia
  • 2 cups button mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium heirloom tomatoes , chopped (optional)
  • 1 lb of wild white fish (like cod) or 1 lb of sprouted tofu, cubed
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro (garnish).


Bring the stock to boil with kaffir, lemongrass, galangal or ginger, and chiles. Cook over low to medium heat for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavor to be infused into the broth. Add tamari, coconut sugar, mushrooms and optional tomatoes. Simmer for 5-10 more minutes to allow flavor to continue to combine. Then add fish or tofu and cook for 5 more minutes until the protein is tender.  Stir in lime juice, onions. Garnish with cilantro before serving.

Serves 4-6

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