News & Opinion | July 23, 2018 5:00 am

There’s No Way You Can Eat As Many Chili Peppers As a Tree Shrew

We dare you to go ahead and try.

Scientists at the Kunming Institute of Zoology, in Yunnan, China, were trying to figure out the favorite food of the tree shrew, of which there area about 2,000 at the institute. They were shocked to learn the answer: chili peppers. Chili peppers are hot because of capsaicinoids, molecules that bind to receptors in our mouths and trick you into thinking you are experiencing real pain, reports Atlas Obscura. 

It is likely that peppers evolved as a defense against bugs, fungi and hungry animals. Only humans have been known to actively consume spicy chili peppers that are rich in capsaicinoids.

But the new research shows that when given peppers in the lab, tree shrews “actively fed” on them. Researchers then went out into the wild and discovered that tree shrews like to eat a particular pepper plant called Piper boehmeriaefolium, and actually prefer it over other plants, including ginger and garlic.

The researchers then synthesized the particular capsaicinoid found in Piper boehmeriaefolium and made some spicy corn pellets. Mice hate them and would barely go near them. But the shrews loved them. Making them spicier only increased the food intake, though slightly.