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Why People In Warm Countries Eat Spicy Food?

Take a moment to sit back and think about the spiciest dish you’ve ever tasted. Try to recall how it made you feel—the heat, the sweat, the tears. Did it set your mouth ablaze and make your heart race? And did you feel the burn long after the meal was over? Now, which cuisine was this fiery blast from the past a part of? Chances are, it hailed from a warm country like India, Mexico, or Thailand. Indeed, some of the world’s spiciest foods originate from countries with the hottest climates. But why is that?

Over time, researchers and food enthusiasts have developed multiple theories to explain why the hotter the country, the spicier the food (broadly speaking). Let’s explore some of these intriguing explanations.

The cooling effect

The cooling effect in the context of spicy food refers to the sensation of relief and temperature regulation following the consumption of hot and spicy dishes. “Although it sounds counterintuitive, you may crave spicy foods when you’re feeling hot or overheated,” nutritionist Rachael Ajmera wrote for The Healthline. This is because certain spicy foods may work to cool your body down. Chilli peppers contain capsaicin, the compound that gives peppers their signature spicy flavour. Some research suggests that capsaicin may play a key role in thermoregulation, a process that helps maintain your body’s temperature. Capsaicin elicits a warming sensation when consumed, which may trigger sweating to help cool you off. This thermoregulation process makes spicy food particularly appealing in hot climates. Additionally, the intense flavours of spicy foods stimulate appetite and have antimicrobial properties, making them beneficial.

Spices & preservation

Another compelling theory suggests that spices play a crucial role in preserving food, especially in hotter climates where bacterial growth thrives. This antimicrobial hypothesis is particularly attractive when considering historical contexts, although it doesn’t fully explain why the preference for spicy food persists even in the age of refrigeration. In hot regions, food spoils more quickly, and spices like onion, black and white pepper, chilli pepper, garlic, and ginger can help prevent this. These spices boast antimicrobial properties, making food less likely to spoil and proving especially useful in warm climates where food can go bad easily. As a result, people who consume these spicy foods may enjoy better health.

Researchers from Cornell University delved into this phenomenon by analysing spices used in traditional meat-based recipes from 36 countries, alongside each country’s climate data and the antibacterial properties of various spices. They dismissed several hypotheses: that spices add macronutrients, mask the taste and smell of spoiled food, increase perspiration for cooling, or are used by coincidence. Instead, they concluded that the prevalent use of spices in hotter climates is due to their potent antibacterial properties, which eliminate pathogens and thereby contribute to people’s health and longevity. 

Culture, adrenaline and everything in between

Have you ever wondered why some people crave the fiery inferno of a ghost pepper while others shy away from even a sprinkle of black pepper? A BBC article exploring this culinary divide suggested a surprising link between your spice tolerance and your inner daredevil. 

It all starts with culture. Imagine growing up in a world where fiery chillies are a staple on every dinner table. Your taste buds become accustomed to the heat, associating these flavours with familiar comfort and safety. Over time, one might even start to find them pleasurable – a spicy adventure for your tastebuds! But for people who are raised on milder fare, a mouthful of chillies can trigger an alarm in the bodies. The capsaicin in peppers mimics a burning sensation, sending their fight-or-flight response into overdrive. People sweat, flush, and in extreme cases, might even, well, let’s just say politely that human bodies are very good at expelling anything they perceive as a threat. 

Here’s the interesting part: some people might actually enjoy this adrenaline rush. It’s like playing a game of controlled chaos with your own nervous system. You get the thrill of an intense experience, all without any lasting damage (unless you overdo it, of course). This, combined with the undeniable deliciousness of a well-balanced spicy dish and the potential bragging rights among fellow heat-seekers, could be the secret sauce behind the allure of spicy food. So next time you reach for the hot sauce, consider this – you might not just be satisfying your taste buds, you could be indulging in a little bit of culinary risk-taking!

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The Hindu

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