Capsaicin, the pungent ingredient in red pepper, has been used since ancient times as a spice, despite the burning sensation associated with its intake. More than 50 years ago, Nikolaus Jancso discovered that capsaicin can selectively stimulate nociceptive primary afferent neurons. The ensuing research established that the neuropharmacological properties of capsaicin are due to its activation of the transient receptor potential ion channel of the vanilloid type 1 (TRPV1). Expressed by primary afferent neurons innervating the gut and other organs, TRPV1 is gated not only by vanilloids such as capsaicin, but also by noxious heat, acidosis and intracellular lipid mediators such as anandamide and lipoxygenase products. Importantly, TRPV1 can be sensitized by acidosis and activation of various pro-algesic pathways. Upregulation of TRPV1 in inflammatory bowel disease and the beneficial effect of TRPV1 downregulation in functional dyspepsia and irritable bladder make this polymodal nociceptor an attractive target of novel therapies for chronic abdominal pain.