Have you ever eaten Veg Kolhapuri or Laal maas? How about Misal Pav or Andhra Chilli Chicken, Bhel Puri perhaps?
What’s the first thought that comes to your mind when you think of these dishes? Water maybe?
While it is clear that these are some of the spiciest dishes in India, there are some popular explanations behind why they are consumed so widely in the regions they come from! Interested? Let’s dig deeper.
If you notice, usually places with a hot climate tend to have spicy food in their local cuisine. Almost all the countries that fall between the tropics and the equator usually have spicy food in their cuisine. India, Mexico, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Thailand – they all are known around the globe for their sweat-inducing spicy dishes. Even within India, if you look closer, states that are the hottest like Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi have spicier cuisine than others. One would assume that in hot places, people would eat less spicy food since it is already so hot outside but the case is almost always the opposite, But what is the reason behind this?
Image source: Wikipedia
Three popular theories:
When it comes to the relation between spicy food and hot places, there are three theories that explain it:
1. Spicy food causes people to sweat: Every chilly contains a certain amount of an element called Capsaicin, which is responsible for the heat or the spiciness of a chilly. More the capsaicin, spicier/hotter the chilly. The level of capsaicin in chilly is measured in SHU (Scoville Heat Units). So when a chilly is of a higher SHU, on consumption, it triggers an increase in the metabolism, which raises the body’s temperature, making it sweat. Sweating cools down the body. Hence people in places with high temperatures use spicy food to help their bodies cool down.
2. Spices have anti-microbial properties: Any type of food starts breaking down after a certain time period, ultimately becoming non-edible. This is due to the micro-organisms that attack it. Food in cold places are immune to such microbial attacks as most of the micro-organism cannot survive the cold. But these microbes thrive in hot weather. Spicy food is known to have antimicrobial properties. It saves the food from getting attacked by these microorganisms. Hence it helps people preserve their food for longer.
Image source: Omkar Hande
3. Spice grows best in a hot climate: This is the most practical of all reasons. Chillies grow best in very sunny places with high-temperatures. Take Andhra Pradesh in India for example. It is the highest producer of chillies, contributing close to 65% of the total chilli production in India. Similarly, globally, countries falling between the tropics and the equator are the places that grow the best quality chillies, enough to feed the whole world. You won’t find any spicy chillies from a country like Russia or Canada! Since most of the world tends to consume locally grown foods in large quantities, it only makes sense for these regions to consume a wide variety of chillies and spices.
While the debate and research behind the relation between a place’s weather and spiciness of its cuisine are ongoing, one thing is clear. We Indians simply love spice! Be it global food brands coming up with Indian spicy versions to please its Indian audience or the running legacy of many traditional spicy dishes from across the country, Indians adapt to spicy food right from their childhood.
But did you know that chillies are not from India? It was Vasco-Da-Gama who introduced Indians to chillies after he brought them from Mexico. Shocked? Can you imagine some of your favourite spicy dishes without chillies? Hard to imagine, right? But that’s how it was until the 16th century.
There’s so much more to discover about the food we see and eat every day. If you want to know more, keep reading The Learning Tree blog and Keep Learning!
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