Why Did Denmark Ban These Spicy Noodles From South Korea? Explained

Love them or hate them, chilli peppers pack a punch that’s impossible to ignore. Recently, their fiery nature led to a spicy scandal in Denmark, where Buldak Ramen noodles were banned for being ‘dangerously hot’. 

Denmark’s food agency issued a recall and warning on Tuesday, asking consumers to stop using Buldak Ramen noodles immediately.

So, what’s behind the burning sensation we feel when we bite into a chilli pepper, and why do some people seek out the fiery thrill of a superhot curry or Korean instant noodles?

Meet the fiery villain: Capsaicin  

Chilli peppers’ heat comes from a chemical called capsaicin. It binds to a protein called TRPV1, found in the membranes of sensory nerves in our digestive system (especially our mouths), nose, and skin.

TRPV1 usually helps us sense high temperatures. However, in the presence of capsaicin, it triggers TRPV1 at lower temperatures, making us react as if we’re being burned. This deception causes our body to initiate an inflammatory response similar to actual burns, leading to swelling, sweating, and discomfort. Capsaicin’s role in understanding heat sensation was so significant that David Julius won a Nobel prize for it in 2021.

Chilli tolerance in animals

In nature, chilli plants produce capsaicin to deter mammals from eating their fruit. Surprisingly, humans seem to be the only mammals that seek out this burning sensation. The exception is some tree shrews, which have a genetic mutation allowing them to tolerate high doses of capsaicin.

Birds, however, are immune to the spice, as their heat sensors work differently. Birds help chilli plants by eating the fruit and dispersing the seeds.

A handy gardening tip: if rats and squirrels are eating your bird feed, add some chilli powder to deter them without bothering the birds.

Danish food regulator recalls noodles

In the case of Buldak Ramen noodles, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (DVFA) issued an urgent recall of three fiery varieties of the Buldak instant noodles, citing an unexpected chilli overload.

In a statement, the DVFA explained, “The noodles are being recalled as the levels of total capsaicin in the products pose a risk of acute poisoning.” 

The Buldak noodles, crafted by South Korean food giant Samyang Foods, are renowned for their intense heat. The brand, which raked in $2.3 billion in revenue in 2023, lives up to its name—‘buldak’ translates to “fire chicken” in Korean. The varieties pulled from shelves are the Samyang Buldak 3x Spicy & Hot Chicken, Samyang Buldak 2x Spicy & Hot Chicken, and Samyang Buldak Hot Chicken Stew.

This spicy saga marks a first for Samyang Foods. “This is the first time they’ve been subject to a recall for this reason,” a company spokesperson revealed to CNN, adding, “It’s because it is so spicy that it could cause problems.”

The DVFA stressed that the recall is a precaution to protect vulnerable consumers. “Children and weak or elderly people are particularly at risk if they consume the total capsaicin content in the packages,” a spokesperson told Fortune.

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Business Standard

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