Latin spice, make it nice

Think of the geographic origins of all your favorite spicy food cultures. What do these places have in common? Warm tropical breezes? Afternoon siestas? As little clothing as culturally acceptable? Sure. But also PATHOGEN LOAD.

If you think about the origins of spicy foods – delicious cuisines such as Thai, South Indian, Mexican – they all tend to be warm, tropical, and located nearer the equator. In other words, not your Canadas, your Finlands, or your Germanys. And why might that be?

Orange is the color of curry….

Spices (aromatic plant materials, not used primarily for nutrition) are used differently by different cultures, and there appears to be a geographic cline. Sherman and Hash (2001) scoured more than a 100 traditional cookbooks of 36 countries. What they found was this: The higher the mean annual temperature of the place, the more spices they used. The warmer the place, the more recipes containing more than one spice, the higher the average number of spices used per recipe, and the more likely to include spices with potent antibacterial capabilities. And the warmer a place is the greater the diversity and growth rates of food-borne pathogens. This pattern is evident even when looking at variation of spice usage within a country, indicating that availability of spice plants was not a driving factor. Further, they found that recipes involving meats, which spoil more rapidly, contained more spices than vegetable-only recipes.

Spice usage by mean annual temperature. From Sherman and Hash, 2001.

The use of spices to inhibit pathogen growth would have been especially important before the widespread use of refrigeration. The complexity and heat of that vindaloo all begins to make sense now, doesn’t it?

ResearchBlogging.org

Sherman, P., & Hash, G. (2001). Why vegetable recipes are not very spicy Evolution and Human Behavior, 22 (3), 147-163 DOI: 10.1016/S1090-5138(00)00068-4

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3 thoughts on “Latin spice, make it nice

  1. Pingback: Dolphins speak up, going antibiotic-less with meat, and the joy of spice « SSCHOW

  2. Pingback: Nibbles: CGIAR, Breeding, Shamba Shape-up, Beach, Plant Cuttings, Cabbage pic, Leaf monitor, European AnGR and PGR, Dutch CWR post-doc, Allium on the Highline, Brazil forest code, Japanese rice in Oz, Indian genebank sell-off, Jersey apple genebank, Hazel

  3. Pingback: Nibbles: CGIAR, Breeding, Shamba Shape-up, Beach, Plant Cuttings, Cabbage pic, Leaf monitor, European AnGR and PGR, Dutch CWR post-doc, Allium on the Highline, Brazil forest code, Japanese rice in Oz, Indian genebank sell-off, Jersey apple genebank, Hazel

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