Spices in Hot Climates

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Hey, Dave!

I’m from down here in Atlanta, Ga and I buy my spices from a company called The Spice House up in Illinois. I called the Spice House to ask my question and they sent me to you. I’m a Personal Chef and I publish an E-newsletter. This week I wanted talk about fiery foods and one of the questions I want to be able to answer is why is it that our spiciest–and hottest–cuisines seem to all come from the equatorial regions and how it seems the farther away from the equator, the milder the cuisines. The two most plausible answers I’ve come across were that hot foods make you sweat, thereby cooling off your body–something that you’d really be interested in in a hot, humid climate. And the other one, referring to spices, is that many spices have preservative qualities, also something that would be desirable in that time of climate. Another one I once heard was that by using a lot of spices, you can disguise the off-taste of meat that is nearing expiration. Do you have an answer for me? And, can you refer me to a book or another trusted source that I can reference in my article?

Hello Chip:

While it’s true that foods spiced up with chiles make you sweat, so does the hot weather of the tropics, so chiles are not needed to induce sweating. Even early cultures knew not to eat meat that’s turning bad, so the idea of hiding the smell of rotting meat with spices is, to me, absurd. However, chiles are anti-oxidants and anti-bacterial, so the preservation theory holds. That said, the most overlooked theory is a really simple one: the cuisines are spicier in tropical areas because that’s where the spices originated in the first place. With the exception of mustard and horseradish, spices like chiles and black pepper sprung up in the tropics so it’s only natural that foods would be spiced with them. Another good theory is that much of the vegetable food of the tropics is bland, like manioc, and spices are needed to make those foods more palatable.

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