In fact, very spicy to spicy foods are popular in many of the warmer climates. Menus in holiday regions often warn inexperienced eaters with the note “spicy”. In Central America, the habanero chilli creates fire, in Thailand, Vietnam or Indonesia it is the “bird’s eye” chili that is often used in dishes.
Scientists are also concerned with this burning question. A common theory is that certain cultures in hot climates use such spices because of their antimicrobial properties. In fact, capsaicin, the substance responsible for the heat in chillies, has been shown to have an antibacterial and fungicidal effect. Food should therefore be better preserved – an advantage in tropical regions where dishes spoil easily.
Biodiversity doesn’t matter
First of all, the researchers confirmed that hotter countries tend to have hotter foods. “But our analysis does not provide a clear reason to believe that this is primarily a cultural adjustment to reduce the risk of infection from food,” it says.
The researchers tried to approach the problem with elaborate statistics and looked there for connections. It turned out that the average number of spices in food has little to do with the prevailing local temperatures. Biodiversity does not seem to play a major role either. Whether more or less aromatic plants are grown in a region or whether they grow naturally there has no decisive influence on the traditional dishes of the region.
The researchers also recognized a connection when it comes to prosperity: rich nations use fewer spices.
Multiple causes, no clear answer
For their investigation, the scientists also looked at how closely the various kitchens had geographic and cultural relationships with one another. But here, too, there were no decisive indications.
The re’s a significant relationship between life expectancy and spicy foods,” says Bromham.
According to Bromham, at least in the statistics, adverse effects were also recorded in countries where spicy food is more common. More people die there in car accidents. But here too, the researchers emphasize that there is no need to be linked to the consumption of more spices.
In the case of the chilli, it is primarily historical reasons that helped the plant to spread. It was known as a cultivated plant in the New World long before Christopher Columbus took it to Europe. Peru and Bolivia are still known today for a great variety of chillies. Portuguese traders brought the plant to India and Asia via Europe towards the end of the 15th century.
The fact that chillies are used there in the kitchen is more of a modern trend.