Evolutionary Scientists Debunk Darwinian Spicy Food Theory


When we eat spicy food – a pork enchilada, say, or maybe a Thai papaya salad – we usually experience one of two reactions (beyond thinking it’s delicious): the first is to drink a lot of ‘water ; the second is to add more spice. The tendency to go big or go home with the spices is not only a hallmark of Asian and Latin American cuisine, it is also seen as evidence of a theory called Darwinian gastronomy. The point is, all of this belief could actually be proof of something else: the Western Eurocentric bias that limits good science.

REVERSE countdown the 20 scientific discoveries that made us say “WTF” in 2021. It’s # 1. See the full list here.

Discovery – In a study published earlier this year in the journal Nature Human Behavior, a team of researchers set out to challenge an idea central to Darwinian gastronomy: by eating spicy foods in environments where foodborne illness is common (i.e. in Latin America and Asia), humans benefit biologically.

The spicy cuisines of Central and South America and Asia had nurtured this concept – a long-held assumption among scientists is that diets high in certain spices have antimicrobial benefits and protect eaters from disease.

Thus, the researchers analyzed 33,750 recipes from 70 kitchens, with 93 different spices. Hotter countries with higher rates of foodborne illness tended to have spicier cuisines, but in the end, the researchers found absolutely no credible evidence to suggest that spicy foods offered any benefit. antimicrobial.

Lindell Bromham, the study’s first author and professor of ecology and evolution at Australian National University, put it bluntly in a statement at the time: the hottest, but our analysis provides no clear reason for primarily cultural adaptation to reduce the risk of infection from food.

Why is this important – Critically, this study is a demonstration of how biases can affect scientific theory: At first glance, antimicrobial theory has legs: Sure, people living in places where the risk of infection from food is higher would do everything possible to prevent disease. Darwinian gastronomy suggests that what we love to eat stems in part from how our bodies have adapted to their surroundings – but this study suggests the opposite when it comes to spice theory.

Ultimately, the study offers a different insight: Scientists may reverse engineer theories based on correlations rather than an underlying cause due to their own biases and beliefs.

Western prejudices about spice-laden foods – like the nutmeg seen here going to your cellar – may have clouded our investigation into their true benefits.danm / Moment / Getty Images

How they did it – Broham and his team examined the ingredients of tens of thousands of recipes. They calculated the average and median spice usage per recipe and combined this data with information on a myriad of socio-economic and environmental factors gleaned from different regions of the world.

Oddly enough, the researchers found plenty of correlations in the data they could use to explain why spicy food is apparently preferable in warmer countries and regions – but when they looked closer and tried to validate a link, that -It collapsed.

In a revealing analysis, the team points out that the number of road accidents more accurately predicts the spiciness of local cuisine than the prevalence of foodborne illness.

And after – This study debunks a popular myth about spicy food. But it can help inform the path in which we interpret scientific theories, information and findings. Science as a whole suffers from a historical Western bias that can lead to narrow data sets, limited analysis, and cultural narratives eclipsing good science. In other words, even if something looks right to you, check yourself before you invest.

It may take a moment to figure out, but you can still contemplate it over a bowl of goat vindaloo or dan-dan noodles.

REVERSE countdown the 20 scientific discoveries that made us say “WTF” in 2021. It’s # 1. Read the original story here.


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