Food Safety Standards – FSSAI, food fortification, etc.

Possible risks of “Acute Poisoning” due to high Capsaicin Levels


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Capsaicin Poisoning

Why in the News?

Food safety authorities in Denmark have recalled three types of South Korean spicy instant noodles due to potential risks of “acute Capsaicin poisoning.”

What is Capsaicin?

  • Capsaicin, the chemical responsible for chili pepper spiciness, is primarily found in the white membrane (placenta) of some chili peppers.
  • Mechanism of Capsaicin:
    • Capsaicin binds to TRPV1 receptors in the human body, which detect heat and pain.
    • These receptors are tricked by capsaicin into reacting as if there is a rise in temperature, causing a painful, burning sensation.
    • The body’s response includes sweating, facial redness, runny nose, teary eyes, gut cramps, and diarrhoea as it attempts to cool down and expel the perceived heat.

Evolutionary Benefits of Capsaicin

  • While birds avoid chilies, rodents consume them.
  • Birds lack TRPV1 receptors, unlike rodents act as seed dispersers, aiding in the germination of chili seeds.
  • Capsaicin serves an evolutionary purpose by deterring mammals from eating the seeds and protecting the plant from fungi and insects.
  • Producing capsaicin is resource-intensive, making spicy chilies more vulnerable to droughts.

Human Affinity for Spicy Foods

  • Over 3,000 chili cultivars have been bred for varying color, taste, and pungency.
  • Some experts believe humans’ love for spicy foods stems from their antimicrobial benefits, which are particularly useful in hotter climates where food spoils faster.
  • Psychologists argue that eating spicy foods is similar to thrill-seeking activities, providing a simulated risk without actual danger.

Potential Risks of Capsaicin

  • High concentrations of capsaicin can cause heartburn, gastrointestinal pain, and diarrhoea.
  • Long-term ingestion of high levels may lead to chronic gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Capsaicin poisoning is rare due to the large amount required for toxicity, with a person needing to consume around 2.5 liters of Tabasco sauce to overdose.

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