Well, I assume plants develop tastes like spices and bitterness to discourage animals from eating it? We, on the other hand, eat it just for the fun of it (how much nutrition do we expect from a bottle of hotsauce). Are there any other creatures out there that eat spices for the hell of it? I know cats have their catnip, but that’s supposed to be an enjoyable sensation. Spice?
I’ve noticed that some dogs seem to like onions/garlic and will exhibit a similar reaction as cats with catnip, by rolling in the scent. I’ve seen them sniff intently at a pile of green onions and then get a little excited and attempt to roll in it and apparently cover themselves with the scent.
I’ve also noticed that a major flavoring component of many dog treats is garlic and/or onion. I am also pretty sure that some canned dog foods contain sage as a flavoring, just judging from their smell.
Birds apparently have no reaction whatsoever to capsaicin, the stuff that makes hot peppers hot. That’s the idea, evolutionarily: Encourage birds, which travel far and wide, to eat the fruits and scatter the seeds, while not wasting any seeds on mammals that won’t carry them so far.
I think it’s mostly a matter of preparation. We like pepper on food, but how many of us sit down to chew on a raw, whole Jalapeno or bite into a raw onion? You use cinnamon and nutmeg ground up, but you don’t chew on them whole or eat a spoonful by itself. Some people do those things, I suppose, but we tend to consider them weird.
Without our brains to make recipes possible, I don’t think you would conclude that humans like spices any more than other animals.
I think you’re being a bit culturally biased there. Millions of people in India, for instance, eat raw whole hot peppers every day, and they aren’t considered weird.
You’re right that the concept of a “condiment” is something that other animals probably don’t have, so they have fewer contexts in which to experience hot/pungent flavors.
So then how did we adapt to a tastes for condiments/spices? Eating something that creates an intense reaction doesn’t seem like a first choice in evolution.
Well spices and condiments aren’t eaten as a seperate “dish” otherwise they’d be main courses
But animals certainly are attracted to smells and the like. Dogs love awful smelling dog food. Seems the worse it smells the more they like it. But animals don’t have the ability to combine food. But they are attracted to small bits of food.
For instance, Chimps learn to “fish” for termites using a stick. There isn’t a heck of a lot of food pulled out each time the chimp puts his stick into a termite mound, but they will spend hours doing it for what seems like little food return. So they must like the taste. Similarly cows will often find ant mounds in fields and regularly eat the ants. Going out of their way to do so. And you don’t think of Cows as eating “meat” even in the form of insects.
Most, though maybe not all, spices and salt were first used primarily to preserve food, as were smoking and pickling in vinegar. We developed a taste for some of those flavors and now continue to salt, pickle, smoke and spice our foods just because we like them that way.
Flavor, how shall I put it, is an acquired taste. I’d think the dogs in India love spicy food. OTOH, we have a dog that spent the first couple years of its life with a Korean family. It wouldn’t eat any of their pickled, spice-heavy food. In our Russian household, he loves all the simply-prepared food, especially plain, boiled beef or chicken. (And doesn’t eat raw, unsalted meat.)
Speaking of salt. Salt isn’t a spice. It’s a variety of vital minerals that humans have a taste for. But the main mineral, sodium, we need because we sweat. Do animals, like dogs, who don’t sweat still enjoy salt? Observation seems to say yes, but why?
Some of the macaques (the “snow monkeys” of Japan) like to salt their sweet potatoes, but it is a learned behavior taught to them by other macaques!
A recent study showed that horses prefer spices in this order:
lower: apple, garlic, ginger, & turmeric
(And they mostly refuse to eat anything flavored with echinacea, nutmeg, or coriander.)
Note, however, that this is based on a single study from the University of Southampton, using a small number of test horses.
My parrots certainly don’t - my conure will snatch a fresh jalepeno right out of your hand, it’s one of her favorite foods, and as far as she’s concerned it’s as much fun as pure sugar.
I have had parrots who enthusiastically devoured raw garlic, too.
Parrots, at least the ones I own, seem to take great delight in strongly flavored food. Actually, they take great delight in food in general, but strong flavors in particular seem to make them happy.
I remember reading somewhere that birds have few tastebuds and nearly no sense of smell. Your parrots may love strong flavors because they are powerful enough to register as flavor. Milder foods may have no taste at all to the bird.
Well, they seem to know the difference between bland food and things that aren’t food. They’ll gnaw and chew on both categories, but one they’ll eat and the other spit out. They also like to eat eggshells and cuttlebones, both of which taste completely blah to me. For darn sure, their tastes are different than those of humans.
For the most part, the compounds found in plants that we use a spices are insecticides. At the levels found in plant tissues, they are toxic or repulsive to insects. Vertebrates, being much larger, can tolerate the dosage; of course, we generally use spices rather sparingly in food, further lowering the concentration relative to that found in the plant itself.
This goes for drugs as well; caffeine and nicotine are there to kill insects.
I am not aware offhand that any animals eat particular plants just because they like the taste (aside from cats and catnip), independent of the nutritional value of the plant. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if that occurred.
The subject of my first staff report Are birds immune to hot pepper enabling them to eat vast amounts and spread the seeds?
All animals need some salt, which is required for nerve conduction and muscle contraction. Salt is lost from the system through excretion even in animals that don’t sweat. Dogs and other carnivores generally get enough of it in the diet, since meat contains salt. Herbivores often require supplemental salt, since plants, lacking nerves and muscles, contain little of it. This is why horses and cattle frequent salt licks.
I’m from India and we like to exaggerate how much we like spices. LOL. I bet we think bragging about it makes us manly.
Now while it’s true that Indians eat a lot of spicy food, we don’t eat it all the time or quite in the way some people may imagine it. In India, it’s considered weird (and sometimes praiseworthy) when someone you know can eat a whole chili without reaching out for a glass of water. Few can do this without spewing fire from their mouths burning down the people sitting opposite them.
It’s the food that you eat on special occasions or at weekends at a restaurant (or maybe in the evenings as a light snack- chaat) that tends to be spicy . Also, the people who eat really spicy food on these rare occasions do it for the thrill of it. These very same people also end up eating dessert right after (an Indian sweet, curd, yogurt, ice cream) to keep their tongues from charring.
Sometimes we combine sweet and spice is the same recipe to neutralize the spice. And in our 5000-plus years of spicy existence, we still think eating spicy stuff everyday is just plain stupid and unhealthy. No one encourages it and all Indians are equal pray to* delhi belly*.
Most of our normal everyday food is otherwise not so very spicy… er, maybe salty because it’s a tropical country and we lose our salts easily through perspiration but spice everyday? Nah… we’re just human and there’s only about as much we can take.
Personally, I like spice more than the average Indian (people think I’m weird), and I like to be weird… I also eat whole chilis to impress the girls and I get a lot of ooooohs and ahhhhhs for it (sadly, no phone numbers, yet) but I also sweat like a pig and drink lots of water after such feats of strength.
Sorry for digressing here but if you look at it one way, this shows that like animals, we humans enjoy spice but only in moderate quantities and not as a primary portion of our daily diet.