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Tom yam kung … a dangerous path! The hottest of all Thai soups owes its burning effect to a small pepper in the shape of a “mouse shit” (1). A generous spoonful of this soup nicely tints in »aubergine » the incredulous face of ill-informed consumers. Hilarious initiated neighbours will rejoice in remembering their own baptism of fire. Burnings in the mouth, puffs of heat, intense sweat, all hardly calmed by large glass of ice water.

Thai kitchen abounds in traps! Sometimes red, sometimes green, the small peppers are hidden everywhere and appear in the most unexpected places, even penetrating the apparent sweetness of certain desserts.

« Vegetable-spices », these condiments are so perfectly integrated in several Asian kitchens that their South American origin comes as an amazement. The flow of exchanges fostered during the century of the famous explorers, some 500 years ago brought them to this continent.

Chillies have a near to neutral taste. The strong sensations linked to their consumption are produced by an intense signal on the pain sensors located in the mouth and throat, simulating for example the swallowing of a too hot coffee.

The culprit of this « apparent » burnings is the capsicum oil contained in the flesh and seeds of the peppers. Not very soluble in water it binds with the sensors and resist the washing with drinks usually available to consumers. The casein of a glass of milk or yoghurt would be a good detergent. Without this available, a piece of bread or a spoonful of rice is of some help.

Peppers are found in various forms in the different Asian kitchens. Usually fresh, in powder or incorporated in a sauce (nam preek) in Thailand, they are a component of Sambal  in Indonesia, Sichuan chili paste in China, kochujang in Korea and tuong ot toi in Vietnam.

iThe feeling of pain produced by peppers has also positive effects. The brain reacts by producing endorphin, generating a sense of pleasure. Once the practice is acquired, eating hot meals becomes addictive. Consumption of chillies brings many other benefits linked to their content in vitamins and the therapeutic effects of capsicum.

Thai « Singha » beer, popular with travellers, can be replaced with a glass of milk to accompany spicy dishes. Instead of this, one might prefer to indulge in the « attaching » warmth of hot Asian meals.

  1. Preek Kee Noo

Reference : Wikipedia

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