Scientists Say: Capsaicin

This molecule provides the burn when you eat a pepper


These peppers contain capsaicin, a chemical that gives us a burning sensation.


Capsaicin (noun, “Cap-SAY-ih-sin”)

This is a molecule that is found in chili peppers. The chemical’s official name is 8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide. When capsaicin comes into contact with the tongue or skin, it causes a burning sensation. Plants use capsaicin as a defense, to keep mammals from eating the pepper fruits. But people who eat peppers often find that burn adds extra allure to nachos, pizza and other foods.

In a sentence

It might burn a little, but capsaicin on the skin can also soothe pain by starting a chemical cascade that helps the brain ignore the hurt.

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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