Capsaicin burn increases thickness discrimination thresholds independently of chronic chili intake

Cong Lyu, Daan Schijvens, John E. Hayes, Markus Stieger*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


The trigeminal nerve transduces both chemical irritation and textural sensations suggesting that perception in one may influence perception in the other. Little is known about how the oral burn of capsaicin may affect texture sensitivity. The aim of this study was to determine the effect of burning sensations on thickness discrimination thresholds in liquid foods assessed by consumers who vary in habitual spicy food intake. Forty-seven Caucasian participants (31 females and 16 males; mean age: 25.0 ± 5.7 yrs; mean BMI: 21.5 ± 2.6 kg/m2) were recruited in the Netherlands. Chili pepper intake frequency and preference for chili peppers and spicy foods were assessed using questionnaires. Perceived burn and disliking/liking of bouillon soups thickened with xanthan gum (concentrations ranging from 0.06 to 0.21 g/mL; viscosity at 50 s−150s-1) ranging from 11 to 48 mPas) containing varying amounts of capsaicin (0, 1, or 10 ppm) were determined using generalized scales (gLMS and gDOL). Estimates of thickness discrimination thresholds were determined using the 2-Alternative Forced Choice ascending staircase method. Capsaicin was applied in two ways: (i) capsaicin was added directly to the soups or (ii) a pre-rinse of a capsaicin solution was held in mouth before evaluating soups without capsaicin. As expected, frequent chili pepper consumers reported significantly lower burn intensity and higher hedonic ratings compared to infrequent consumers. Thickness discrimination thresholds (i.e., BET expressed as Δη50s-1) increased significantly from 11.3 mPas at 0 ppm to 16.1 mPas at 1 ppm (42% increase) to 21.4 mPas at 10 ppm capsaicin (89% increase) on average across all participants. Similar modification of thickness discrimination thresholds were observed regardless of whether capsaicin was added to the soup or was applied as a pre-rinse. No significant differences in thickness discrimination thresholds were observed between infrequent and frequent chili consumers. We conclude that oral burn caused by capsaicin affects thickness discrimination independently of reported chili pepper intake. Also, we suggest the ability of capsaicin to alter thickness discrimination may be due to increased neural noise, attentional effects or cross-modal interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110702
JournalFood Research International
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


  • Capsaicin
  • Chemesthesis
  • Chili pepper intake
  • Cross-modal interactions
  • Generalized scaling
  • Texture perception
  • Thickness sensitivity


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