Eat What Thou Wilt

According to a yarn of dubious origins, the occultist Aleister Crowley liked to serve his houseguests an exceptionally spicy curry. He would also, the story goes, set out several glasses of clear liquid. Some were water, and some were vodka. He didn't tell anyone which were which.

In college, inspired by this sadistic tale, my roommate Bryan and I inaugurated the annual Aleister Crowley Dinner, featuring hot foods, vodka, water, and inconclusive labeling. Not being as cruel as Crowley, we warned everyone beforehand about what they were getting into. The food was spicy, and the food was good. And only one or two of the guests were over 40.

Why do I mention the guests' ages? Because Bryan has emailed me a curious story in the Boston Globe about the growing popularity of spicy food. Here's the thesis:

Why is hot so hot? The conventional explanation is that the nation has an increasingly adventurous palate. Immigration and prosperity have made Americans more sophisticated eaters, pushing wasabi peas into the mainstream, along with chili-Thai lime cashews, cayenne chocolate bars, and other high-octane combinations.

But some food scientists and market researchers think there is a more surprising reason for the broad nationwide shift toward bolder flavors: The baby boomers, that huge, youth-chasing, all-important demographic, are getting old. As they age, they are losing their ability to taste -- and turning to spicier, higher-flavor foods to overcome their dulled senses.

Chiefly because of degenerating olfactory nerves, most aging people experience a diminished sense of taste, whether they realize it or not. But unlike previous generations, the nation's 80 million boomers have broad appetites, a full set of teeth, and the spending power to shape the entire food market.

What evidence does the Globe present that the demand for foods of greater intensity correlates with the baby boom?

1. A consulting group's claim that older adults "have the highest preferences for boldly flavored cheeses, such as blue, feta, and Gorgonzola."

2. The fact that the readership of fiery-foods.com skews older.

And that's it. The rest of the article is a scientific argument, a theory to explain a link that hasn't been established. The central idea is that "at a certain age -- after about 40 for most people -- the number of nerve receptors in the nose and tongue that respond to smell and taste dim and decrease." Which is interesting, though I was under the impression that the mouth is not the only organ involved in ingestion, and that some of the others grow less tolerant of heat as the body gets older.

More to the point: I'm reluctant to embrace any theory that fails so completely to map onto my own experience. I'm still under 40, and I've been a devoted follower of spicy foods since my teens, if not earlier. Hence those Crowley dinners.

Now, it's certainly possible that I'm just an outlier with a weird genetic makeup. My two-year-old daughter, who likes to eat whatever she sees Daddy eating, has happily gobbled down spicy Pad Thai and Cajun snack mix; that could be my genes in action. (*) But in the absence of substantial data on who's eating what, and on whether the same pattern holds from one culture to another, who can tell? Maybe it's just learned behavior. Maybe in countries with spicier cuisines, people of all ages eat hot foods. Maybe as their food comes to America, we're gradually learning to eat heat as well. Maybe, if there is a correlation with the baby boom, that's because a lot of boomers are educated, adventurous people eager to try new foods. In other words, maybe the "conventional explanation" derided in the Globe is correct, and the rising availability of spicy meals is an product of globalization, immigration, and the prolifieration of niche products and diverse taste cultures.

Wherever it came from, the heat revolution is a cause for celebration. For decades, standard American mass-produced food was extraordinarily bland -- a condition reflected by the oddly inaccurate labels on supermarket salsas and hot sauces, where "hot" is a euphemism for medium, "medium" is a euphemism for mild, and "mild" is a euphemism for ketchup. Now that there's more demand for genuinely spicy condiments, many brands have added a new option: "fire." It's a euphemism for hot, because that word was already taken.

(*) She also likes it when I tell her what sort of animal she's eating. "Here, Maya," I said to her once. "Try some hamburger." She turned up her nose. "It's cow," I added. She grabbed it, and with a mighty "Moo!" she thrust it into her mouth. Similarly, she prefers to refer to ground lamb as "baa-baa" and to bacon as "piggy." Prediction: She either will never go through a vegetarian stage or will one day become the most militant vegan on the planet.

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  • ||

    Wait, what happened at the Crowley Dinners? Who acted drunk while drinking water? Whose third eye opened and shot out a projection of Aiwass?

  • carrick||

    I have been eating spicy foods for 20 or so years (started with Indian and Mexican, recently discovered Thai). I have found that I needed to go from really damn hot to just really hot as I went from early 40s to now 50.

    So this boomer is going in the opposite direction.

  • ace||

    I think it's pretty well-established that your sense of taste dulls as you age. This explains why kids don't like vegetables; they're more sensitive to bitterness.

  • megs||

    They're just unduly influenced by Shakespeare:

    "but doth not the appetite alter? A man loves the meat in
    his youth, that he cannot endure in his age."

  • Jozef||

    Whatever the cause, the heat revolution is a cause for celebration. For decades, standard American mass-produced food was extraordinarily bland

    A few years back I was hiking down the Grand Canyon when I was joined by two other foreigners - a Serb and a Russian. All three of us had one thing in common: complaints about American food, beer and women. This has been a common theme when I was talking to fellow foreigners ever since I came to the US. We all keep complaining about American food for being bland. Moreover, we keep saying that making it spicier doesn't make it less bland - it merely gives us good reason to avoid it. What the food here needs is a little less predictability and uniformity - for example, I'd pay extra for a nice chunk of unpasteurized cheese instead of the cardboard cut-outs they sell in the local supermarket.

  • ||

    I've been eating spicy foods since late high school. It all started with Tabasco on the eggs, spiraling out of control with nuclear chicken wings, jalapeño smothered nachos, and hot sauce on everything. These days, wasabi and hot Thai cuisine are also on the list. Oh, and horseradish has always been in the mix, if that counts.

    To be honest, I probably have toned it down since I was younger, not always opting for the death-by-hotness option and eschewing the habañero most of the time. However, I still can't abide "mild" salsas. Those are an abomination and likely to lead to the decline and fall of the American republic.

  • emmajane||

    One of our local Thai restaurants has 5 categories of heat--#1 being "mild", # 4 being "hot" and #5 being "you might as well lick the sun".
    I'm an over-40 babyboomer, and I don't do hot. Never have. And, as far as I can tell, it doesn't get any better with age.

    A theory I have is that smokers or ex-smokers like heat because they've killed some receptors, and this way they can taste their food. But I've never understood why my husband enjoys sweating while he eats spicy food. He loves it, though. And he's not in the pay of big tabasco, as far as I know.

  • ||

    Jesse

    Um, so, did the annual Aleister Crowley dinner also follow up with an orgy and/or virgin sacrifice as well?
    Just asking, in case I decide to throw one myself.

  • ||

    Sorry, I don't buy the 'baby boomers' taste buds are shrinking theory' because the increase in demand for spicy correlates entirely with the increasing demand for ethnic, adventurous and just plain interesting food that has blossomed in the past twenty to thirty years. Great book on the subject called 'The United States of Arugula':
    http://tinyurl.com/2bscqz
    (apologies for not taking time to make it a live link). But I'm sure that's the real reason.
    PS The book is at least somewhat sympathetic to libertarianism--not only the owner of Whole Foods, by the way. Charlie Trotter is apparently an Objectivist...!!!

  • Jozef||

    Um, so, did the annual Aleister Crowley dinner also follow up with an orgy and/or virgin sacrifice as well?

    My money's on orgy. I doubt there were any virgins to sacrifice afterwards.

  • ||

    So this boomer is going in the opposite direction.

    Me too. I learned to like blistering hot food in my twenties. Then I gave up smoking and started tasting my food. I didn't find the "my lips and tongue are on fire" sensation as appealing. I learned to detect and enjoy more subtle flavors. As I entered my 40's I find I don't digest spicy foods as well. However much I enjoy them going down I know to exercise moderation when it comes to the chilies or I'll pay for it later.

  • ||

    One of our local Thai restaurants has 5 categories of heat--#1 being "mild", # 4 being "hot" and #5 being "you might as well lick the sun".

    Most Thai restaurants have two scales. American #5 equates to Thai #3. I know this as I had Thai cooks overseas for about a year, came back to the states and would order Thai #4. Most places, the owner would watch me eat to make sure I knew what I had.

    I find myself toning down a lot as I cleared 40 a couple years ago. It's not so much about heat, never has been, it's more about flavor.

    I don't think it's boomers, I think it must be the failure of the assault weapons ban to renew. I mean, it's the root of all things, right?

  • Jesse Walker||

    Wait, what happened at the Crowley Dinners?

    At the first one, right after we served the food, we had about a dozen people in our living room chomping on it, saying things like, "Bah! This isn't so hot."

    And then, suddenly, the only people left in the room were Bryan and me. The rest were all at the table, trying to find the water -- or had skipped the vodka puzzle altogether and gone directly to the kitchen sink.

    I've never understood why my husband enjoys sweating while he eats spicy food. He loves it, though.

    I find that spiciness intensifies all the other flavors, making the meal a richer experience. Also, if the peppers are really hot, they'll give you a bit of a buzz.

  • ||

    The water/vodka part reminds me of the drinking game version of Russian Roullette that my friends and I use to play. Basically, you have the waitress bring out 6 shots: 3 shots of water, 1 shot of vodka, 1 shot of gin, and 1 shot of rum. These are of course in a random configuration, preferably in the shape of the chambers on a revolver. Then you take turns doing a shot. Fun abounds.

  • ||

    I enjoy wasabi on everything or by itself, I prefer a good Thai curry to pseudoephedrine for decongestant purposes, white horseradish is key to enjoying New England Cooking, and you all can keep your fucking hot peppers. Far. Away. From . Me.

    If the cops are spraying people with it, count me out.

  • ||

    I would speculate that, like most things, it's more a matter of availability coupled with experience. Fifteen years ago, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything that was really spicy in the supermarket. But that's true of a lot of things. The diversity of the selection has simply increased.

    And also, fifteen years ago, no one really thought it was marketable. It took Dave's Insanity Sauce to show people that "Hey, we can do some crazy sh!t with capsaicin, and it can rock your world!"

    And finally, there's the relationship between capsaicin and endorphins, which explains why people are willing to partake in certain spicy experiences. I get an endorphin release just anticipating a good spicy meal.

    So Jesse, did you use any Blair's 16 Million? I thought not...'since using that even on forewarned guests is practically a criminal act.

  • ||

    On a dare from my brother--this is, lamentably, a recent event--I swallowed a heaping teaspoon of horseradish. The swallowing was easy, because I just gulped it without chewing. However, the after effects were painful and disturbing. Of course, I've never considered horseradish to be "hot", however painful mass consumption of it might be.

    My favorite OTC hot sauce is Cholula, for the record.

  • ||

    Dear tk & Jozef,
    no orgies were *directly* tied to the Crowley Dinners, as far as I know. The Geek House that bred this subculture never had virgin sacrifices either, though once a female friend *did* volunteer to be affixed to a duct tape pentagram on the carpet. It was very cute.
    A whole lot of the males in that circle of friends were surely virgins, but very very few of the females, oddly enough. And guys just don't look as good tied to altars, especially doughy midwesterners. Go figure.

  • TLB||

    Thanks for your life story. But, my explanation is easier: the paper had space to fill, and they thought they'd spotted a trend. Combined with perhaps knowing someone in the spice industry, and perhaps trying to enlighten more ignorant Americans.

  • ||

    I prefer a good Thai curry to pseudoephedrine for decongestant purposes, ... and you all can keep your fucking hot peppers. Far. Away. From . Me.


    Not to be a picker of nits, but these are one in the same. Thai curry Indian curry, it is primarily composed of hot peppers brought to Thailand by Portuguese traders a few hundred years ago.

  • Episiarch||

    Also, if the peppers are really hot, they'll give you a bit of a buzz.

    Yes, pain often causes me to hallucinate as well.

    Spice is fun, and tastes great. However, taking a shit that burns like fire ants clamped to your anus soon makes you more careful about what you eat. Alcohol only makes the shits burn more.

  • ||

    She also likes it when I tell her what sort of animal she's eating. "Here, Maya," I said to her once. "Try some hamburger." She turned up her nose. "It's cow," I added. She grabbed it, and with a mighty "Moo!" she thrust it into her mouth. Similarly, she prefers to refer to ground lamb as "baa-baa" and to bacon as "piggy." Prediction: She either will never go through a vegetarian stage or will one day become the most militant vegan on the planet.

    I think you are right. But for now you have the most awesome two year old on the planet. One of my pet peeves, something that makes smoke come out my ears, is when someone decides they don't like something when they find out what it is. (last week I met someone who told me how much she was enjoying a dish until the chef told her it was squirrel and then she threw up.) Along the same lines are people who refuse to eat in a certain restaurant after they've seen the kitchen in operation. ("Then he stuck his FINGER in the soup! Ewwwww")

    I guess your girl is making the same sort of error only in reverse. But that's much cooler. In a few years you should introduce her to the Ted Nugent school of "eat your view".

  • ||

    After years of eating spicy food around town, I was finally clued in to the term "Thai spicy". If you ask for this in a Thai restaurant they will serve you a bowl of molten lava.

  • ||

    Oh and I hate to have to tell you this, but my daughter ate everything under the sun with relish up until she was around 4. Then she became your basic bland carbo addict just like most every kid. It remains to be seen if her tastes will remain adventurous.

    I hope for your sake that they do. She is now 11 and she is only now finally getting to the point where I can take her to a decent ethnic restaurant

  • Franklin Harris||

    I find that spiciness intensifies all the other flavors, making the meal a richer experience. Also, if the peppers are really hot, they'll give you a bit of a buzz.



    If it doesn't at least give you a buzz, it's not hot enough.

  • ||

    ...oddly inaccurate labels on supermarket salsas and hot sauces, where "hot" is a euphemism for medium, "medium" is a euphemism for mild, and "mild" is a euphemism for ketchup.

    As Jesse relates, this has gotten better. Even Doritos came out with a Habañero version, which is decently hot.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    "Here, Maya," I said to her once. "Try some hamburger." She turned up her nose. "It's cow," I added. She grabbed it, and with a mighty "Moo!" she thrust it into her mouth.

    That's the money quote. The thread winner if you will. LOL

  • Jesse Walker||

    taking a shit that burns like fire ants clamped to your anus soon makes you more careful about what you eat

    I was trying to be discreet when I wrote that bit about the "other organs." Thanks for spelling it out...

  • Jesse Walker||

    for now you have the most awesome two year old on the planet

    I know!

  • ||

    ...taking a shit that burns like fire ants clamped to your anus soon makes you more careful about what you eat.

    Yes it does. Celery can actually help with this, one reason it gets served with hot wings so often. Eating a couple ctalks before spicy food can make a difference.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    There is truth in all of this but it may just be the market at work. I love chipotle, but until recently couldn't find it anywhere but a few restaurants.

    I've also noticed that some Thai places have seriously scaled back the fire to that of mild Chinese dishes. Bad sign when you have to ask for spicy in a Thai joint.

    Curry, man, years ago Mrs TWC was out of town and my good buddy Stevie Crown invited me to chow down on some chicken curry his Asian flame (using the term in it's truest sense, I mean this woman broke dishes like Blondie) had made for dinner. Now, I'm no pie, and I knew they liked hot food, but I didn't know she toned it down for company. Since it was spur of the moment I got the full dose and my face was on fire, tears were rolling down my cheeks, and my sinuses were emptying every 30 seconds (pass the Kleenex please) but Dam, it was the best chicken curry I've ever had.

    Later she got Americanized and quit making all that great Asian food. Didn't lose the temper though.

  • ||

    A friend of mine has a saying (doubtful that he came up with it): Show me a beautiful girl and I'll show you a guy who's tired of fucking her. It is an epidemic of Anhedonia. As a population, Americans spend so much time with so much that they are desensitized to normalcy. Does anybody really want an orgasm that never stops?

    As for the boomers I have told my dad that I am expecting his generation to spend a fortune of their discretionary income, ill-gotten gains and my future inheritance on medical and pharmaceutical R&D for the trivial annoyances of old age; e.g. poor vision, poor hearing, poor sense of taste. That group is so vain I expect all of the bugs out of the system by the time I hit 65 with room to spare.

  • ||

    Bad news for you'all. I'm 61 and have found that there is such a thing as GERD. It happens to lots of people. You will find yourself, one day, putting on your glasses in order to be able to pick the onion out of your salad. Sic transit...
    BTW, to Jozef. A russian was complaining about American food in the Grand Canyon? Didn't they serve good enough pickled herring at the Mexican restaurants in Flagstaff?

  • Andrew Ian Dodge||

    So Stilton and Gorgonzola are spicy? Funny I just thought they were delicious moldy cheeses.

    I rather doubt any woman who hung around Crowley was a virgin. Despite the claims otherwise Crowley never sacrificed anyone.

  • ||

    Is this really about adventurousness? I know plenty of people who are a lot more adventurous than I am when it comes to food but have no capacity for capsaicin. I know Thais who can't eat the nuclear-hot foods I love. I think it's more about critical mass: there are now enough people that those few who like really hot foods form a population of sufficient size for the mass market to cater to.

    Sadly, I'm beginning to suspect that as I enter middle age my "iron stomach" seems to be rusting. I can eat blazing hot food just fine, but gastrointestinal discomfort occasionally ensures where before it never did. I hope that isn't what's happening because I like my Thai food too much.

  • GILMORE||

    I've been a CPG/Consumer Markets analyst for 11 years now, and have done a number of research projects on baby boomer behaviors, product flavor trends, ethnic foodservice, etc. and can verify the general claim that yes = there is an increasing trend towards spicier and more diverse 'ethnic' (a silly, loaded term that isnt always accurate) food consumption amongst both baby boomers as well as the broader 'adult' market.

    The why may not *just* have to do with taste buds, but it is certainly a factor. If you subsegment baby boomers, there's more than just 'older folks'. There are rich as hell baby boomers, middle income baby boomers in suburb/urban/and rural markets, and they all have slightly different flavor profiles and demands for 'new' stuff.

    There's never one reason things like this emerge quickly - it's usally a confluence of 3 or more supporting criteria. Increased income polarity and increased access to information all drive interest in foods/flavors outside those that have been part of the traditional local palette. Well-off retirees tend to seek out 'experiences' that are novel, and going out to eat (consumption outside the home) has been growing steadily while food in the home has been in decline. Main reason being that household sizes are getting smaller, and people cook less for themselves when there are only 2 in the household.

    Jesus, i could go on forever. In short, there's more to it than a 1 dimensional driver of changing tastes.

    A good data source for insight into changing american flavor profiles by region is MenuInsights, a product developed by Mintel...

    http://www.menuinsights.com/sinatra/menu_insights/about/

    They were a former competitor to the analyst firm i worked for. The data is actually really simple in its methodology. They collect menus from 1000s of restaurants across the US (aiming for a representative split between foodservice types - e.g. QSR, Fast Casual, full service, premium), and aggregate them and segment out the flavor groups and ethnic food types. Even something as simple as that can sometimes provide really interesting data. Like, 'Chipotle' has been the fastest growing flavor in the last 5 years or so. Most of it has to do with name recognition. Flavors only become popular when people have an idea what it's about. Things that are too foreign and new tend to take a while to stick.

    anyway, just some insights for you there. Back to the databases now...

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Swil, I'm not vain, but I'm so sick of juggling three pair of glasses that I'm ready for lasik. There was a day when I could dang near strike a match from 30 feet with a .22. Now I can't hit the garage door with a basketball. That isn't trivial, it sucks.

    Last time I climbed onto the roof to fix a leaking tile I misjudged the ladder rung and the whole thing went south dragging me with it. I tried to jump back onto the roof but the got dam rope on the ladder wrapped around my ankle. That fargin' hurt like hell. I'm way to old to be falling of the roof onto concrete.

    Gimme some cheese with that whine. :-)

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Water v Vodka? I guess if your mouth is on fire you might gulp down vodka without thinking, but, I'm pretty sure I'd notice the diff right away.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Oh, and all 10,000 of my tastebuds are still working overtime.

    Nose works too. Which can be a disadvantage around people who don't bath often enough, but is wonderful when one is enjoying a great meal.

  • GILMORE||

    as a follow up comment, i'd add that the common definition of 'spicy' around the country is totally inconsistent. Meaning, when people say there's a trend towards 'spicyness', they miss the point that the fastest growing spicy flavors are mostly mild as hell. I mean, people in certain parts of the country think 'medium' salsa is spicy. It's more in the urban markets where serious Thai/Indian/Vietnamese/Creole etc. flavors are growing. In the midwest or rural areas, the kind of 'spicy' thats growing is like mild mexican food and mild asian food. Still, thats still a shift away from meat and potatoes culture. So you cant really take the trend at face value.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Gilmore: Thanks for the more extended analysis, which is much more persuasive than the one-dimensional approach in the Globe piece. I'll check out the Mintel site.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Is this really about adventurousness...

    In part, it's because all the boomers quit eating Mickie Dees after they reached maturity at 45.

    Good point about spicy though. I like a little bite but when it overwhelms the delicate flavors, well, then it's too much and I suspect this varies (as you point out) from individual to individual.

    Somebody else mentioned this too but when I was young the best remedy for a sore throat was about six tablespoons of hot salsa. Man that stuff worked. Prolly the Vitamin C.

  • Jesse Walker||

    when people say there's a trend towards 'spicyness', they miss the point that the fastest growing spicy flavors are mostly mild as hell

    I suspect the real trend is toward more diversity, which includes hotter options but is hardly limited to them.

    (Also, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of those Chipotle-buyers think the stuff they're getting is produced by the Chipotle restaurant chain.)

  • carrick||

    My daughter worked briefly waiting tables at my favorite Indian restaraunt.

    On night, we ordered and my daughter didn't bother to write down how hot to make the dish. So the cook asked, and she replied "he likes it really hot". That was the only time I couldn't finish my entre.

    That was also the turning point, and I never really went back to eating the hotest food I could find.

  • GILMORE||

    Jesse Walker | October 10, 2007, 2:00pm | #
    Gilmore: Thanks for the more extended analysis, which is much more persuasive than the one-dimensional approach in the Globe piece. I'll check out the Mintel site.


    Yeah, unfortunately they dont provide sample data of their stuff. I had some older stuff from them I ganked from clients, and I seem to recall it being more detailed than "top 350 chains, top 150 independents" - I recall they had 1000s of one-off restaurants around the country participating, so maybe they've scaled the operation down to just service the main clients (chain foodservice companies) who can afford to purchase this kind of research.

    A good trick to find data like this on the DL is to google "menuinsights filetype:ppt" and see if you can find presentations that cite their data. Same works with PDF files.

    Ancient chinese secret of the market researcher.
    :)

  • ||

    I hear you TWC, I've been in glasses since I was 7 and my vision has been going downhill for about 35 years straight. Joy of joys I now have to take my glasses off to see up close, and seem to be well on my way to tetrafocals. I have vivid memories of watching my grandfather reading the paper when he was about 85; his glasses were on his forehead, the paper was folded into quarters, and he was squinting with one eye shut holding the paper about 2 inches from his open eye. I believe it took him 6 hours to read the Chattanooga Times. On the plus side he had really strong eyelids. I would really love to see some action in that area if/before I get there.

  • Episiarch||

    There are two way to do "spicy".

    1) Put in a significant amount of a brutally hot spice/pepper. This results in something where the hotness is the main "flavor". Many people cannot handle this and do not like it. Those who do like it are usually reveling in the "the back of my head is being blown off" factor.

    2) Put in a LOT of a milder spice/pepper. This creates a richer, more robust flavor where the more subtle flavors are also able to come through.

    In my experience, most people love #2 done correctly while only the heat fanatics like #1. #2 can be quite hot, but is never overpowering (again, done correctly).

  • ||

    Growing cuisine diversity is definitely a major player in all of this. I've gone--as an adult--from calling sushi "bait" to loving it. Asian food for me as a youngster was almost exclusively Chinese; now I tend to eat Thai and Vietnamese (not counting the sushi) much more often. In any event, I've always preferred hot yet flavorsome to painfully hot.

    I've even noticed an increased variety in Spanish foods in Tampa. It used to be all Cuba and Spain-Spanish, but now we have all sorts. The wife and I have been eating Brazilian food in recent years.

    swillfredo pareto,

    Was he reading the old Chattanooga News-Free Press? You can't make up jokes like that (The News and the Free Press merged, you see).

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Epi, Door Number Two!

    Nicely done.

  • ed||

    There's no single explanation, of course. The growing Hispanic demographic has a role in the spice surge. The boomer theory is possible, but have old people always liked spicy food? My guess is that we're richer than ever before and we have an almost limitless choice of foodstuffs from every corner of the globe and lots of leisure time to indulge our adventurous side. By the way, if anyone wants my hot habanero pickled Boar's Head ring baloney recipe, I'm here for you.

  • dhex||

    a big diff is that people don't differentiate between "dark" (cumin, et al) and "bright" (cayenne, et al) spice flavors.

    i think that's a really good nomenclature that someone else no doubt came up with and i stole from them psychically.

    also i really want curry for lunch damn you jesse walker.

  • ||

    A few years back I was hiking down the Grand Canyon when I was joined by two other foreigners - a Serb and a Russian. All three of us had one thing in common: complaints about American food, beer and women.

    It must have been a lot of years back if you were complaining about American beer. The U.S. has the best and widest variety of beer available anywhere, with the possible exception of Belgium. One of the best parts of the "Long Tail" revolution if you ask me.

    I was a lot less disdainful of these kinds of comments from foreigners before I spent time in Europe (Dublin, London and Amsterdam, specifically). Each city had the same 3 or 4 beers available everywhere (and Bud and Heineken were always 2 of them).

  • ||

    I live in Hawaii. I can assure you that here, at least, the plethora of spicy food eaten by young and old is due to a vibrant multi-ethnic mix caused by (wait for it) immigration.

    *ducks as the usual suspects take the threadjack bait and start a 500 post thread rehashing whether Teh Messkins are good or bad

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Besides, American Women Are HOT!

  • GILMORE||

    Mike,

    Are you anywhere near 'CurryHill'?

    I used to eat at Curry-In-A-Hurry a lot. Russel Simmons eats there a couple of times a week. Once I sat next to him and heard his buddies talking about Def Poetry Slam. I chimed in "that shit was kinda gay". The guy next to me turns and starts asking me why. Then I realized it was russel simmons. I changed the topic to Run DMC as fast as I could

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Prole, have you always lived in Hawaii?

    I'm ready for a few acres of coffee and macs on a hillside south of Captain Cook where I can relax in the sun and stare aimlessly at the vast blue Pacific while enjoying a glass of the red.

    That's a better threadjack......

  • Episiarch||

    a big diff is that people don't differentiate between "dark" (cumin, et al) and "bright" (cayenne, et al) spice flavors.

    This is definitely on the right track, dhex, but I tend to divide them into opposition camps. For instance, cinammon is sweet and I always add it as a balance to things like dried ancho chile, which is spicy, and then flesh it out with cumin, which gives body and depth. Tangy items like citrus, roasted green chiles, and lemongrass are also important to add "crispness" to the flavor--to make it "pop".

    If you don't balance your flavors, your food always seems to be lacking something--it just doesn't taste right.

  • GILMORE||

    Jesse Walker | October 10, 2007, 2:03pm | #

    I suspect the real trend is toward more diversity, which includes hotter options but is hardly limited to them.


    To a degree, yes. The growth of fast-casual restaurants has driven a lot of the change. Eg., the growth of flavors isnt simply about the changing types of restaurants. The same retaurant chains (e.g. crapholes like Applebees, TGI fridays, Olive Garden, Chilis) are constantly changing and expanding the flavor profiles of their offerings. 'Diversity' in middle america is ordering the Southwestern Egg Rolls, or the Shanghai Wings from Chilis :) Seriously. Thats what they are talking about when they say people are eating more diverse flavor profiles. It's simply mixing up the profiles of the same old BS you'd normally get at a fast casual restaurant. There is not a boom in Thai restaurants as much as normal restaurants are slowly blending in watered-down Americanized versions of these kinds of food flavors.

  • juwan||

    Is there a possibility that spicy, heavily flavored food is just better? That is to say preferred generally over milder foods as a general matter of taste palates are built?

    There are always those studies showing how valuable those neutraceuticals are, and they tend to be strong flavors like garlic, cinnamon, ginger, etc.

    India used to have a thriving trade with Europe, and got quite rich selling spices that did not really make the European food preserve longer (unlike salt), simply making them taste better. So clearly flavor is an important idea if people have fought wars to make their food taste better.

    A lot of people have talked about how it reflects a more diverse marketplace and country. But why are the changes so often in a single direction? The speed with which curry replaced fish and chips as the most common dish Britain is extraordinary. I can't imagine the Indians ever adopting fish and chips into their cuisine, though they adopted the language and other customs.

    Brad DeLong ran a self-experiment by tripling cinnamon in all his dishes, assuming the meager amounts in recipes was due to legacy pricing of cinnamon in recipes at a higher cost than now available.

    I have seen some biological explanations for how taste receptors work and their genetic roots, is it possible that they have evolved towards local cuisines?

    I remember being told about some study (possibly apocryphal) where Swedish people were able to absorb nutrients better from bland Swedish food than spicy Thai food. The opposite was seen in Thai people where they absorbed nutrients better in the spicy Thai food.

    It all makes me reconsider my all-macaroni and ketchup diet.

  • ||

    I like spicy food, but I do enjoy some less-spicy cuisines, too. For instance, I like German food.

  • ||

    Und Deutscher Filme, wie Krieg der Sterne! Und die Eroberung von Frankreich!

    Sorry, sorry, I'm okay. Too much kraut in the diet, that's all.

  • GILMORE||

    Is there a possibility that spicy, heavily flavored food is just better? That is to say preferred generally over milder foods as a general matter of taste palates are built?

    If you mean "better for you" than blander foods...from a nutraceutical point of view, it probably depends on what exactly it is. There have been some studies that showed that spicy foods tended to be good at lowering cholesterol. Capsaicin (peppers) have sometimes been shown to relieve pain (by causing it elsewhere? har), and help the body rev up it's metabolism, helping to boost the immune system.

    I cant find any single good source, but this seems pretty comprehensive

    http://www.digitalnaturopath.com/treat/T415473.html

    As to your last point - yes, people in different regions of the world tend to genetically be predisposed to achieve better "bioavailability" of nutrients from traditionally consumed foods. Bioavailability is an interesting concept. No two people get the same amount of processable calcium from the same glass of milk. VitaminWater can say they put all this gunk in their product, but most of it you piss right out because it's not in a format that is easily processed by the body. Much of it is destroyed in pasturization anyway. Anyhoo, the 'health' impact of selected dietary behaviors is in general kinda bullshit next to exercise and general good sense. Most people think that 1-2 things they put in their body are going to have an effect. Like occasionally drinking a POM or something. It's mostly psychological reward

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    It's interesting that if you grow up in a culture that eats spicy, that's what you get to eat. In our house if the kids squawk about something being too spicy or too peppery, well, we lighten their share up the next time. I guess in Thailand they just say eat it or you go to bed without TV.

  • GILMORE||

    Isnt the root of spicy food the regional unavailability of salt/curing practices, and temperatures where meats would spoil rapidly?

    I seem to recall someone telling me the reason crazy spices come from india is that half the time the meat was on the verge of rancidity, and could only be consumed when dosed up with shit that would cover up the nasty.

    Another factor in the genesis of spiciness as a solution to simply having *less* food widely available. Hunger can be tricked away by flavor, because your body cues yourself that you're 'more full' when flavors are stronger. i.e. you can eat less of it and achieve satiation more easily

  • ||

    I'm in my twenties and I like to snack on raw habaneros. Or habaneros any way, really. My friends happily join in, most of the time. I make chili with a habanero pepper extract so volatile that it will irritate skin. It's delicious.

    I don't really know any people over 40 except my parents. My father used to eat spicy food but no longer; my mother would never touch the stuff; my wife thinks black pepper is scorching to the palate.

    It's interesting that if you grow up in a culture that eats spicy, that's what you get to eat. In our house if the kids squawk about something being too spicy or too peppery, well, we lighten their share up the next time. I guess in Thailand they just say eat it or you go to bed without TV.

    My dad used to act like that. If he made food, then DAMMIT we were eating it or we were going hungry.

  • juwan||

    Gilmore:

    I think it's possible, but poor man's food in India and Thailand tend to be actually less spiced and blander than the diet of wealthier people. Salt trade was also not an issue as most of the spice growing regions (Malabar, East Indies) have ready access to salt on their coastlines.

    Also the export value to the rich Roman Empire and centers of wealth makes me think it is unlikely its primary value was as a supplement for marginal diets.

    If meat is rancid, I think covering up the taste is an unlikely hypothesis for spicing unless the spices have antimicrobial properties (such as turmeric) because you still die if you eat spiced poisonous food.

    Thus this temperature issue in causing meat rancidity is more likely a cause for the many cultural dietary restrictions towards types of meat altogether in tropical areas.

  • ||

    Someone said:
    Diversity' in middle America is ordering the Southwestern Egg Rolls, or the Shanghai Wings from Chilis :) Seriously. Thats what they are talking about when they say people are eating more diverse flavor profiles. It's simply mixing up the profiles of the same old BS you'd normally get at a fast casual restaurant. There is not a boom in Thai restaurants as much as normal restaurants are slowly blending in watered-down Americanized versions of these kinds of food flavors.


    I don't know if you think Detroit is 'middle America', but there sure as hell is an explosion of Thai restaurants here. There's even two in the Grosse Pointes area, and, if you know anything about the sociology of the Detroit area you know that ten years ago pizza was exotic foreign food in Grosse Pointe.

  • ||

    Agreed. There may be a growing diversity of menu options at the big chains, but there are also a lot of new mom-and-pop options out there. Granted Tampa's a tourist town and has more restaurants than most places, but I saw a bunch of independent Mexican and, of all things, Japanese restaurants while driving through Alabama in 2003.

  • db||

    I have, for years, believed that the reason older people wear increasingly loud and colorful clothing is due to the deadening of their sense of sight. This is directly analogous to keeping the TV volume at earplitting levels and spicing the hell out of all their food.

  • robc||

    taking a shit that burns like fire ants clamped to your anus soon makes you more careful about what you eat.

    Having had the "pleasure" of accidentally sitting on a fire ant mound, I can say that no amount of spice can ever be compared to that.

  • robc||

    Prediction: She either will never go through a vegetarian stage or will one day become the most militant vegan on the planet.

    If there is a pool, Im willing to toss a buck onto "serial killer".

  • ||

    One of my pet peeves, something that makes smoke come out my ears, is when someone decides they don't like something when they find out what it is.

    Let's see if you change your tune, tuff guy, when the chef says you're eating HUMAN!

  • GILMORE||

    If meat is rancid, I think covering up the taste is an unlikely hypothesis for spicing unless the spices have antimicrobial properties (such as turmeric) because you still die if you eat spiced poisonous food.

    Good point.

    I looked it up...apparently alot of common spices are coincidentally highly antimicrobial. funny how that works.

    http://www.fiery-foods.com/dave/spices.html

  • GILMORE||

    oops.

    farted up the italics there

  • ||

    Every "major" trend is a result of the muscular influence of the boomers. If you are a twenty, thirty, or forty year old and offended... well, that is just tough. Maybe in your next life you will be lucky enough to be born into a significant generation.

  • ||

    "If you mean "better for you" than blander foods...from a nutraceutical point of view, it probably depends on what exactly it is. There have been some studies that showed that spicy foods tended to be good at lowering cholesterol. Capsaicin (peppers) have sometimes been shown to relieve pain (by causing it elsewhere? har), and help the body rev up it's metabolism, helping to boost the immune system."

    Another point. Highly colored foods, (beets, red wine, carrots, dark greens, etc) have been linked to significant biological activity. Spicy tasting food seems analogous to pigmented food. I would be very surprised to find that spicy stuff is not biological/pharmaceutically active in some way.

  • scandalrag||

    ProLIb,

    The key to Mexican and Japanese restaurants in Alabama and really throughout the south and midwest is worker migration. Mexican farmworkers and japanese factory managers move there and really want the food from home. Then one of them quits and opens a restaurant.

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