The Uniting Flavor of Spice

By Serena Jackson

Despite the differences in cultures often promoted in the media, we all have one universally uniting bond:

Food.

The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” For many, being able to come together at the end of a tiring day and enjoy a meal as a family is a treasured opportunity. Some cultures in India, Korea, and Africa love bonding over a spicy meal to warm the hearts of their guests.

The internet has also been drawn to an obsession with spice that has led to tongue-blistering challenges including the infamous cinnamon, suicide wing, and fire noodle challenge.

But this is deeper than a mere show for likes on social media. Rather, this is a beautiful part of one’s culture. Korean foods are often riddled in spices not for the light hearted. The first Korean dish I took on as a fierce competitor was a piping bowl of steamy gochujang goodness overflowing with sausages, ramen, and pork (Oh my!) known as budae-jjigae.

In between cleaning the steam from my glasses and wiping the sweat from my forehead, I just couldn’t get enough of the flavorful notes of garlic and mouth-watering spicy pork cutlet. My taste buds certainly thanked me for the experience after they recovered. Jjigae is just the tip of the iceberg.

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Initially, eating something spicy may inhibit a tongue-biting, gasping-for-air response. Interestingly though, we often go in for another bite despite the pain, a typical love-hate relationship. Families around the world often share the same ups and downs, which makes gathering together to eat a fiery meal even more meaningful.

The traditional Indian vindaloo is in a class of its own for being well-known as the greatest of all zesty dishes. This curry is steeped in the world’s hottest peppers, known as Bhut Jolokia or “ghost peppers,” which are crowned at score of 1.35 million Scoville units (a unit of measurement for spiciness)–more than 1,000 times spicier than Korean chile peppers! Ghost peppers are often introduced with warnings and cautionary words for its consumers. Nevertheless, the sweet aroma of cinnamon entangled with the warmth of hearty potatoes and vegetables makes for an enjoyable evening meal.

Our next stop is not a dish, but a spice. Nigeria’s yaji (or “suya”) spice is a concoction of potent ginger, paprika, cayenne pepper, and much more. Similar to the Korean multi-use gochujang, made from red chili peppers, this allspice is used in many dishes ranging from smoky pork kabobs, to seasoning vegetables prepared for grilling.

As simple as it may look, it’s punch need not be underestimated. One single shrimp covered in yaji can send your taste buds on a culinary vacation to a remote paradise across a land you’ve never been--but never want to leave. That fantasy will abruptly end when its intense, yet sweet peppery notes smack you back into reality with a fire the cucumber side dish cannot extinguish. This spice has its roots back in the 14th century and remains as a staple in Nigerian households, passed down from great grandparents through generations, strengthening tribal and family bonds.

Surprisingly, the origin of dishes, like the notorious Korean army stew and Indian vindaloo, stem from the fusion of international ingredients. Whether we like it hot or not, food undoubtedly brings us together and serves as an unsung hero to whom we owe many thanks.

Although differences and opposition are often highlighted in the world around us, there are many similarities hiding in plain sight; one being the uniting flavor of spice!

Written by Serena Jackson

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