myanmar-burma-yangon-asia-cuisine-curry-food-16567877-2Typical delicious Burmese dishes contain garlic, pepper, onion, lemon and ginger. I believe all my Burmese friends would agree with me in saying that these essential ingredients make the food even more delicious, yummy and palatable. I myself grew up with such food and are a fan of taste, smell and texture of the dishes with a wide variety of spices.

Many of our human behaviors are taken as prima facie i.e. we normally do not question about why we do what we do. Adding spices in our dishes is one of those things I have never stopped and taken some moments to ask WHY. Well, it is true that our taste buds are more positively responsive to these spices. But, it still does not explain why?

As you might already notice people in some countries used more spices than the others. This WHY question, plus answer came to me while I was reading a book by Cartwright (2008) called Evolution and Human Behavior. He referred to two research studies: one done by Billing and Sherman (1998) and a follow-up study by Sherman and Hash (2001). I am telling you about the findings from these two studies.

  • Antimicrobial properties in spices.

Billing and Sherman (1998) conducted an analysis of 4,578 meat-based recipes from cook books in 36 countries and found that as average annual temperatures increased, so did the proportions of recipes using antibacterial spices. Countries with hotter climates used spices more frequently than those with cooler climates. In countries with cooler climates, meat dishes were prepared without spices or with just a few spices.

  • Meat-based dishes contain more spices.

Sherman and Hash (2001) conducted a follow-up study and showed that the vegetable dishes used fewer spices than the meat based dishes, even in hotter countries. Their logic behind the study was that the cells of dead plant were less affected by the growth of bacteria and fungi than the cells of dead animals.

Personally, I have seen that most meat-dishes, left outside the fridges overnight, were easier to go bad than vegetables dishes in the same situation.

  • Here is a list of spices that prevent the growth of bacteria, ranked from most effective to least effective. (Billing and Sherman, 1999)
  1. Garlic
  2. Onion
  3. Allspice
  4. Oregano
  5. Thyme
  6. Cinnamon
  7. Tarragon
  8. Cumin
  9. Cloves
  10. Lemon grass
  11. Bay leaf
  12. Capsicums
  13. Rosemary
  14. Marjoram
  15. Mustard
  16. Caraway
  17. Mint
  18. Sage
  19. Fennel
  20. Coriander
  21. Dill
  22. Nutmeg
  23. Basil
  24. Parsley
  25. Cardamom
  26. Pepper (white/black)
  27. Ginger
  28. Anise seed
  29. Celery seed
  30. Lemon/lime


Billing, J. & Sherman, P.W. 1998. Antimicrobial functions of spices: Why some like it hot. The Quarterly Review of Biology 73(1): 3-49.

Cartwright, J. (2008). Evolution and Human Behavior (2nd ed). Cambridge, Massachusetts, The MIT press.

Sherman, P.W. & Hash, G. A. (2001). Why vegetables recipes are not very spicy. Evolution and Human Behavior, 22(3): 147-64.


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