- The practice of seasoning meat generously with spices originated from its fast perishability, and was carried on as a culinary tradition. In contrast, plant-based food had lesser need of spices owing to their inherent chemical compounds, structural cell wall and low pH, which assist in combating harmful microbes.
- According to evolutionary biologist Paul W. Sherman’s research, the use of spices in dishes should be proportional to the necessity, indicating less requirement in vegetable dishes.
- Spices played a crucial role in preserving food and preventing food illnesses in the past, signifying a co-evolutionary race between humans and food parasites and pathogens. Our traditional cookbooks are evidence of this evolutionary journey.
- John Silander suggests that traditional preparation methods could provide insights into dietary preferences of cultures where vegetarianism is predominant, opening up the possibility that cultural evolution could also influence the need for spices in food.
- The study’s findings have been published in the journal ‘Evolution and Human Behavior’.
The role of spices in adding an extra zing to our meals while also combatting food-related ailments often go unnoticed. However, have you ever wondered why plant-based dishes are usually less spicy compared to meat-based ones? An engaging study provides some compelling answers.
The Evolutionary Essence of Spices
Historically, meat, due to its fast perishability, was often seasoned generously with spices making it palatable. When those indulging in these heavily spiced meals did not fall ill, the practice gradually caught on. Over generations, it became a culinary tradition. However, the same did not hold true for plant-based food items.
Vegetables, naturally fortified against harmful microbes, hardly ever needed the help of spices. Vegetables contain inherent chemical compounds that aid in warding off microorganisms, a robust structural cell wall comprised of cellulose and lignin, and a low pH indicating acidity. According to the research findings of evolutionary biologist Paul W. Sherman from Cornell University, these significant factors inhibit the need for strong spices in plant-based dishes. Furthermore, the case is different with animal products, highlighted by the fact that the animal’s immune system perishes with it.
In Accordance with Need
It’s a straightforward concept. The use of spices as antimicrobials should be proportional to the requirement, indicating less necessity in vegetable dishes. This theory was validated by Sherman through the thorough analysis of 2,129 vegetable recipes from 107 traditional cookbooks spanning 36 countries. The selected recipes were from an era preceding refrigeration.
A Glimpse of the Past
A historical exploration led by Sherman revealed that the fundamental reasons for the precious value of spices lay in their role in preserving food and preventing food illnesses. This visibly demonstrates a long-running co-evolutionary race between humans and food parasites and pathogens. In essence, our cookbooks, with their well-documented recipes, stand as a tangible record of this fascinating evolutionary journey.
John Silander, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, suggests that the traditional preparation methods could tell us more than one story. Single-type comparisons could be challenging, particularly in cultures where dietary preferences lean heavily towards vegetarianism, such as India. In such contexts, an evolutionary factor could also be a consideration. Cultural evolution dictates our food choices, and plants’ long-standing use for their medicinal properties cannot be overlooked.
The intriguing results of this study were published in a recent issue of Evolution and Human Behavior.
Food for Thought
Guard Against Food Illnesses: Enlighten yourself on how to keep ailments resulting from food at bay here.
Spice Up Your Health: Discover how different spices may benefit various health conditions here.