Food News

Could Spicy Food Have You Skipping Out on Salt?

November  1, 2017

Spicy foods may curb salt cravings, according to a recent Chinese study. It seems that two of our five tastes, salty and spicy, might have more to do with each other that we previously thought. Just this week, a study from the Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China, drew a link between the two flavors. After analyzing the diets of 606 Chinese adults, researchers concluded those with high tolerances—and appetites—for spice tended to veer away from saltier foods and, in turn, had lower blood pressures.

This inverse relationship might be due to the presence of capsaicin, the chemical that gives chili peppers their kick. According to Zhiming Zhu, M.D., the study’s senior author, capsaicin “enhanced the perception of food being salty.” Thus, people who ate spicy foods more often developed a sensitivity to salt.

Researchers also looked at brain scans of regions that detect taste. The two sections of the brain involved in tasting salt—the insula and orbitofrontal cortex—overlap with the areas of the brain that register spice.

Shop the Story

The connections between the two appear more than evident, but is eating more spicy food the key to heart health? I’m not sure. Personally, my spice tolerance is aggressively low, so this study doesn’t bode well particularly for me. To learn more about the study, check out this summary published in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension.

Are you a fan of spicy or salty? Let us know where you stand in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • HalfPint
  • Olivia Bloom
    Olivia Bloom
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


HalfPint November 7, 2017
I love both salty and spicy. More specifically, I think that spicy needs to have salt (a little bit) to be an enjoyable flavor. Spicy food without an adequate amount of salt is can be just horrible.
Olivia B. November 1, 2017
I was just talking about this the other night! We were making guac with an aggressive amount of Serrano peppers, and couldn't quite put our finger on what was missing. Then I realized what my tongue thought was salty was actually spicy. Added salt, and BOOM. Perfect.