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No. 120: Nov-Dec 1998

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Why Some Like It Hot

That's spicy "hot," not temperature "hot." As travelers can attest, the warmer regions of our planet offer the spicier foods. In a way, this observation is a proof of microevolution. The "fitter" people (that is, "survivors") in hotter climes are those who have inherited a taste for hotter foods.

Spices contain chemical compounds that inhibit or kill the bacteria and fungi that are more likely to poison foods where ambient temperatures are higher. Eaters of spicier foods are more likely to survive in these areas.

This is not just a surmise. A study of 4578 recipes from 93 cookbooks from all over the world have been analyzed for spice content. Sure enough, the hotter the climate, the more recipes using spices and the hotter the spices used. In the language of science:

"The proximate reason spices are used obviously is to enhance food palatability. But the ultimate reason is most likely that spices help cleanse foods of pathogens and thereby contribute to the health, longevity and reproductive success of people who find their flavors enjoyable."

(Billing, Jennifer, and Sherman, Paul W.; "Antimicrobial Functions of Spices: Why Some Like It Hot," Quarterly Review of Biology, 73:3, 1998.)

Antibacterial properties of 30 spices
Antibacterial properties of 30 spices.

From Science Frontiers #120, NOV-DEC 1998. 1998-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:

Quotes

  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987