Were spices originally added to our food simply to reduce the risk of infection?

Thomas Wiegele

05 Mar 2021

1 min

Indian woman preparing spices

"Woman making spice at Tso Moriri, Ladakh, India" by sandeepachetan.com is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

New study shows that spicy food cultures did not develop simply to prevent food-borne infections but had deeper roots related to human behaviour.

For long, researchers believed that the reason why certain cuisines use spices extensively was mainly for their antimicrobial properties and prevention against foodborne infections. A team of researchers from the Australian National University in Canberra analyzed over 30,000 recipes from 70 cuisines using 93 different spices and published their results in a Nature Human Behaviour article.


In their study "There is little evidence that spicy food in hot countries is an adaptation to reducing infection risk" (Bromham, L., Skeels, A., Schneemann, H. et al., 2021, Nat Hum Behav), the researchers revealed that a correlation between spice use and an infection-mitigation mechanism are not consistent. However, they found that other factors such as health and poverty were much more likely to be associated with spice use in the past.

References

  1.  Bromham, L., Skeels, A., Schneemann, H. et al. There is little evidence that spicy food in hot countries is an adaptation to reducing infection risk. Nat Hum Behav (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-01039-8

Food culture, Human behaviour, Spice history