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Cool Down with Hot Food

May 26, 2010

Sometimes the things that seem counterintuitive to our logic process are actually the right things to do.  In the culinary world, this holds true when it comes to what we eat in hot weather.  It’s over 90 degrees today here in the Northeast, and the furthest thing from my mind regarding dinner tonight would be hot and spicy food.  Most people in non-equatorial regions would not find downing a bowl of fiery curry or stuffing their mouths with habanero salsa appealing on a steamy 90-degree day.  But that’s what they do in India, Mexico, Malaysia, etc.  You won’t find street vendors in Calcutta selling cold salads and sandwiches during the summer, reserving the hot and spicy items for the more mild winter season.  No, they’re eating steaming bowls of spicy noodles in Vietnam year-round, as Jamaicans are enjoying their volcanic jerk pork during the peak of summer.  Part of the reason is that these areas are where the spiciest of peppers grow, but there is a scientific reason as well; when you eat hot and spicy food, your body compensates for the extra heat by making you sweat more, which actually cools your inner temperature as the heat is released through the skin and disperses out of your body.  So in essence, eating hot food cools you down, despite our instinctive reaction to avoid it during hot weather.

Part of the reason we don’t like to make these dishes in hot weather is that it heats up the kitchen; soups and stews and pasta dishes make a lot of steam, the oven expels heat into the room, and it just makes it unpleasant to cook under those conditions…hence we love to grill outdoors, especially in warm weather.

So the next time you’re looking for a way to cool down at the dinner table, instead of going for cold pizza and macaroni salad, try some jalapeno poppers and a steaming bowl of spicy Pho.  I know, it seems weird…but a few billion Indians, Mexicans and Southeast Asians can’t be wrong!  Enjoy.

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