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Today’s Korea Photo

29 Jan
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Old Meets New, originally uploaded by Gaijin Photographer.

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Chili Peppers and ‘Benign Masochism’

29 Jan

Hot, Hotter, HottestGive me heat! Thrill-seekers and masochists can’t resist chili peppers!

Top sellers among…500 pepper varieties include four of her five hottest, she added.

Asked why that might be, Lamson said that serious “chili-heads” drove the market, and she offered an analogy to drinkers.

“People who go to one party a year, they have one drink and they’re flying,” Lamson said. “But with people who drink every night, it takes more. And typical heat doesn’t cut the mustard.”

Dr. Marcia Pelchat, a researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, a nonprofit lab that studies taste and smell, thinks she knows why.

“In marketing terms,” Pelchat said, the main active component in chili peppers, capsaicin, “has the positive traits of addiction without the negative ones.”

She and Rozin see no withdrawal symptoms among chili-heads deprived of the spice, which may mean only that they haven’t studied people who move from New Orleans to New Hampshire. However, they find that:

* Many people profoundly crave the chili experience. They find eating hot peppers — with all the attendant tearing, sweating and runny noses — to be far more intense and complex than eating anything else. “They’re much more present in the experience” than when they eat other foods, said Shultz, Pace’s brand manager.

* Chili-cravers are also, in a modest way, thrill-seekers. As with roller coasters, Pelchat noted, “The level they like best is just below where they can’t stand it anymore.”

* Tolerance of chili increases with experience, as with alcohol and many narcotics. In capsaicin’s case, the mouth’s heat receptors gradually lose sensitivity.

It’s still an article of faith by young South Koreans, that westerners can’t take the heat with their food. I’ve often tried to explain, that westerners’ squeamishness about Korean staples. like kimchi and kochujang, as more to do with fermentation than heat. There’s also the way traditional Korean foods, mostly stews, are served communally, or because western cuisine leaves bones and other nutritious parts of the animal in the kitchen, not still in the bowl – how many Americans even bother with turkey neck or giblets. Finally, there’s the issue of ‘toilet paper’ – honestly, many new arrivals just couldn’t take their eyes off the roll of toilet paper on the table, even as I tried to extol the virtues of Korean coking. It’s far more likely for a westerner to take a liking to Korean-style BBQ, or even seafood.

And, if South Koreans love heat so much, why are so many supposedly “spicy” Korean foods sweet? Fermentation changes the flavor of chilies, so that a little heat comes with a lot of sweetness. If that’s not bad enough, western imports, like Doritos, sell a Koreanized version that’s little removed from cake frosting. Fermented chili is also a selfish flavor – it crowds out all other spices until the palate can’t recognize marjoram from oregano. Chilies in natural form adapt to nuance. Perhaps, this is why “Mexican, Thai, Chinese and Cajun food were the typical American routes to discovering chili…”. There’s nothing polite about Indian curry, but the popularly-sold Korean version is quite tame and sweet.

Finally, chili peppers aren’t addictive.

Untrue, or at least unproved, leading researchers said, is the widely cited theory that chili is addictive because eating it releases pleasure-giving substances called endorphins.

“There is no evidence that capsaicin releases endorphins. It’s pure conjecture,” responded Dr. Solomon Snyder, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine molecular neuroscientist who discovered the brain’s opiate receptors.

“This is not to say that they never do,” added Dr. Huda Akil, a co-director and senior research professor at the University of Michigan’s Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience Institute.

“They might because they trigger pain and endorphins are often secondarily released following pain or stress,” Akil wrote in an e-mail. “Or they might if they create a reward for some who loves them. We hypothesize that reward is often accompanied by release of endorphins.

“But there is a long way to go between conjecture and scientific evidence.”

A promising theory is that capsaicin excites the trigeminal nerve, which takes sensory input to the brain from the palate, lips and gums, among other areas. The trigeminal nerve can make taste receptors more aroused, studies have shown.

Yet, I wonder if fermenting chilies doesn’t somehow make them more addictive. Anyway, more heat, better health, and more fun make for a great meal.

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George W. Bush’s Ultimate Insult to China

29 Jan

President George W. BushI’m at a complete loss how to take seriously ESWN‘s “Bush and postmodernism, too” explanation for the failure of Charter 08 to get traction in PRC.

If George W. Bush were not around and the American president was someone like John Kerry instead, then there could have been some hope for Charter 08.

Instead, George W. Bush was president and such is the reality. Anyone who has paid any attention over the past eight years could not have hoped for someone like George W. Bush to lead China. George W. Bush had been elected by a majority of voters in the world’s greatest democracy. Twice. How do you explain or justify that? How could any Chinese person wish for a George W. Bush as the own leader of their nation?

Now that is the real marketing problem for Charter 08.

Just stop it! I’m no fan of the man, but, PLEASE, stop attributing mega-powers of doom to the unfortunate buffoon. Read Huntington, and about revolution instead.

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