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June 18, 2020 6 min read

Chilli is NOT spicy… for birds

Parrot eats chilli

When I was a child, I saw many of my neighbours had parrots as their pets. Quite often, I heard the parrots said "hello" "someone is coming".

I wondered how they train their parrots to talk. So I decided to find out.

 Back then, people fed hot chillies to parrots. They believed that the heat from the chilli would "peel" off the parrots' tongues. People assumed when this happened; their tongue became flexible. It was easy to train them to talk. 

I used to believe that. And I was dead wrong.

The whole thing is a myth because 

Chilli DO NOT like mammals but birds.

Hang on; chilli has a feeling? Does it have the ability to like and dislike?

Sure it does

Let me explain

Scoville scale is a system to measure how "hot" or "spicy" of chilli pepper is. The range is from 0 to 15,000,000,000 SHU (Scoville Heats Unit)

To give you an idea, one of the most popular chilli is Jalapeno, and its score is 5000

Habanero is between 150,000 to 350,000. Anything above 350,000 could hurt people.

Currently, Carolina Reaper is the official World's hottest pepper with a SHU of 1.6 million  (although Dragon's breath is hotter clocked at 2.48 million heat units)

I don't know what about you, but I once tried the Habanero from the supermarket. My mouth was swollen for three days. I would not touch that again, period!


But why a bird can eat not one but many Carolina Reaper chillies without any problem?

The answer is simple; it does not feel what we feel.

If a bird can talk, it would say chilli was not spicy. It is true because to that bird; chilli is not spicy.

But as a human, surely we feel the "heat."

So chilli is spicy or NOT spicy? It depends on who is eating.

We cannot say we are right, and the bird is wrong because both are correct.

Chilli can be spicy or non-spicy. The same chilli, but two opposite opinion and both are right.

For your interest, "heat" or "spiciness" is the defence mechanism of chilli against mammals. But not birds. In fact, according to Hertzberg (2018): the only two Known Mammals Like Spicy Food are human and Tree Shrew. 

We feel our "heat" from the chilli because of the TRPV1 receptor on our tongue. When we consume spicy food, it is this receptor that sends the signal to our brain.

Birds do not have this receptor, so they do not feel what we feel.

It likes playing music to the deaf ear.


I think the chilli knows that.

As a plant, it is not movable, so how can it defend against the herbivore (leaves or plants eating mammals)?

We may say herbivore could eat the fruit (chilli) and spread the seed. Unfortunately, when the seeds passed through the mammals' digestive systems. The seeds are no longer viable.

But with birds, it is an entirely different story

"Not only are birds immune to the burn of hot peppers—they don't digest the seeds either. That means they pass through the bird intact. The bird's gut even separates the seeds from the pulp of the fruit, meaning they're more likely to germinate in the ground" (SUNDBERG, 2019)

So that is how chilli evolved. It is spicy for mammals but NOT for birds because it knows birds spread its seeds more efficient.

Why I am telling you this

Because I want to let you know everyone perceives smell and tastes differently

For the same Oud, why do some people like it but the others hate it?

There are many reasons, so I would like to list four main one

  • It depends on your background.

The environment where you grow up, matters. For example, when you lived in a farming area, you would be familiar to the smell of cows, horses, sheep, chicken and pigs. So when you moved to the city area, this smell would not bother you. The opposite is true when you experience this smell; it brings happiness and comfort.

So, if the scent of livestock, manure, woodsmoke, burning leaves do not bother you, then the barnyard scent in some Oud will evoke your childhood and your memory. After all, you grow up with this scent; it will remind you of the good old time: chasing chicken and duck around with a branch, and get chased by the geese when you came close to their gosling, bagging horse manure and put in front of the entry so people could purchase to fertilise their plants.

What about citizen and townfolks?

If you are a city person, and you have not been to the countryside to experience this particular smell, chances are: you will not like it.

But don't worry, because not all agarwood (Oud) oil contains this smell.

The scent of barnyard in Oud came from the fermentation process, and this smell is very controversial. If you don't like it, it is normal.

You still can enjoy Oud without the barnyard smell. 

How? By selecting the agarwood oils that are distilled with short duration of soaking. Professional distillers would know the exact time and yielding to soak before the fine comminuted wood fermented. 

These ouds contain floral, woody vanillic, leathery notes which could be more comfortable to accept than the farm smell.


  • It depends on the environment around you. 


Just like you are eating out at a nice restaurant, the decor, with classical music, dimp light. The chef presents food in a way that is pleasing your eyes. The waiter serves you with high-end crockery and silver cutlery. This ambience makes you experienced your meals better.

Now imagine for the same food, you put it in a takeaway box with plastic cutlery. Does it have an impact on your experience?

You may or may not agree with me, but visual plays an important part in how you perceive the smell. For example

Compare to the four types of containers below, which one do you feel having a better smell? Remember the only judgement you have is how it looks in this case.

a) Aluminium bottle

b) Glass Bottle

c) Glass bottle with golden decor cap

d) Crystal bottle with oud chips


  • It depends on the people around you.

People around you may influence you. I know a lady who used to live in Melbourne. Because of her work, she moved to Saudi, where many people consumed Oud. At first, she did not like the smell because it was somewhat too pungent or overpowering. The Arabian introduced attar oil to her, which was "softer" to her. After six months, she developed her own oud preferences.

  • You are a unique individual.

You know, Chanel number 5. 

Best selling perfume at all time

Most people know it, but not all people like it.

The preference for various perfumes of individuals depends on their genes (in this case, it is MHC - major histocompatibility complex that determines the perfume preference of individuals). And there are many different genes.

In 2001,  evolutionary biologists Milinski and Wedekind did an experiment.

They asked male and female students to review 36 types of perfumes.

Once the students tried, they needed to answer two questions.

  1.  "Would you like yourself to smell like that?" and 
  2. "Would you like your partner to smell like that?"

The result showed that students select their favourite perfumes according to their MHC genotypes.

But the answer of question 2 did not match with their partner's MHC genotypes. In other words, what they like does not always translate to what their partner wants.

It means the selection of perfume of an individual is for that individual only.  And there is not a perfume that every single one of us will love because of the incredible diversity of MHC genotypes.

Inside your nose, there are millions of smell sensors, known as olfactory receptors (ORs).

The ORs are nerve cells. 

When you breathe in, the odoriferous molecules (smelling substances) enter your nose. The ORs emit a neural message to the olfactory bulbs. These bulbs then send the signal to the brain.

You and I might have different ORs because our genes are different.

These genetic differences mean that when two people smell the same molecule, one person may detect a floral odour while another smells nothing at all. (Maggio 2019)

In the case of oud oil, I have seen some individuals experienced different Oud oil

But they told me all of the oud oil they tried, smelled similar


They could not tell the differences.

I can't say that individual wrong and I am right because that is how he perceived it. It is quite personal


I am not abnormal. My sense  is just different than yours

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