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The spicy food law [May. 18th, 2008|04:45 pm]
Arvind Narayanan

People often ask me: "so which is the spicier cuisine again, North or South Indian?" It appears that the law (in the sense of natural law) that describes the spiciness of regional cuisines is not as well-known as it should be. Here it is, behold its simplicity:
The spiciness of a regional cuisine is completely and accurately determined by the average temperature of the region.
This explains why Thai and other South Asian cuisines are very spicy, South Indian food is spicier than North Indian, and Russian food is impossibly bland.

The reason for the law is equally simple. Historically, the function of spices was food preservation. Our taste for them is an evolutionary adaptation to a survival need, rather than the other way around. Before the invention of refrigeration, you had to put spices into food to keep it from going bad. And naturally, the hotter the environment, the faster bacteria grew, and the more spices you'd need to dump into food you wanted to preserve.

[User Picture]From: ephermata
2008-05-18 10:02 pm (UTC)
How about Korean kimchi? It's remarkably spicy, but Korea is colder than most of South Asia, especially in the winters. Here's an average temperature map:

The summers can be hot, but they aren't as hot as Thailand or South India.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-05-18 10:08 pm (UTC)

Chili peppers, now a major ingredient in most forms of kimchi, were unknown in Korea until the early 17th century. Chili peppers originated from the New World and were introduced to East Asia by Western traders.[4], specifically, the Portuguese trading in Nagasaki. This particular style of kimchi made with chili peppers and baechu, a variety of Chinese cabbage, gained popularity in the 19th century and this baechu kimchi continues to be the most common and popular form of kimchi today.[5]
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