Korean Noodles Craze: Can Indians Tolerate Heat And Spice?

Whether you pop open an OTT platform or scroll through reels on social media, you cannot escape the Korean content. The popularity of BTS, K-dramas, and Blackpink have transcended continental boundaries. From fashion and makeup to food and entertainment, boomers, millennials, or Gen Zs have been consuming Korean content in one form or the other.

Video Credit: Break The Spice/ YouTube

First, there were K-pop bands, then K-dramas, and now Korean food. The popularity chart seems to be an exponential graph that only rises upwards. Among all kinds of foods, Korean noodles have become the most popular. From ramen to kimchi, Korean noodles are available in various flavours across continents. 

Recently, Denmark banned a few varieties of Korean noodles because of the levels of spiciness. The food authorities have claimed that such high levels of capsaicin (the element responsible for spiciness in chillies) can lead to acute poisoning among people. 

To find if high levels of spices can actually lead to toxicity, Slurrp spoke with Pune-based functional nutritionist Mugdha Pradhan, CEO and founder at iThrive. Did you know that humans cannot taste spiciness? Did you know that noodles are addictive? 

Growing Popularity Of Korean Food In India

Reports claim that viewership of K-dramas and K-pop saw a year-on-year jump of 370% in 2020 on Netflix. This, combined with a 162% hike in the import of Korean food products in the same year, is a testament to how Indians have welcomed Korean culture. From 2021 to 2023, the market for Korean noodles grew from Rs 2 crores to Rs 23 crores, according to a report by NielsenIQ.

If numbers do not convince you enough, open any food delivery applications. Not only will you witness Korean restaurants growing in number in tier I cities but you will also observe how popular brands are catering to the hype. In 2023, Nestle India introduced Maggi Korean noodles in chicken and veg flavours. The same year, Knorr and Nissin also launched Korean noodle variants. 

From Amazon and Zepto to Swiggy Instamart and BlinkIt, you can get your hands on not just noodles but also chilli oil, kimchi, topokki rice cakes, pastes, and sauces. There is no question that Korean food is delicious, but the doubt is if Indians can bear the heat.

Humans Can’t Taste Spiciness

Functional Nutritionist Mugdha Pradhan said that humans cannot taste spices. You can only taste sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami flavours. She added, “Capsaicin is the compound responsible for heat and spiciness in chillies, and it triggers pain receptors.” Hence, it is a common element added to many pain-relieving balms. The nutritionist explained that the external application numbs the area.

“When it comes to spices, there is no one-fit-for-all formula. Each individual has a different kind of tolerance towards spiciness because of the food intake they have,” the nutritionist said. She added that a person could build their tolerance to heat and spiciness by gradually increasing the content of chillies in their food. 

How Does The Human Body React To Spices?

“Capsaicin triggers a heat reaction which activates pain receptors,” said Mugdha Pradhan. She added that too much of this compound in the body can cause a burning sensation in the mucus membranes, which are present inside the cheek, throat, digestive system, and all the way to the rectum.

“The burning sensation leads to an increase in the amount of secretion of gastric acid in the stomach, which is why many people complain about acidity after eating spicy food. Spicy food also leads to inflammation, diarrhoea, hiccups, and irritation,” said nutritionist Mugdha Pradhan.

She suggested people with a sensitive gut and struggling with digestive issues or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) must stay away from spicy food. 

How Noodles Can Be Addictive?

Mugdha Pradhan said, “Korean or not, noodles can be addictive. They contain a high number of calories but 0% nutrition.” She explained that when you eat something spicy, it hyper-stimulates your brain and kind of makes you feel alive in the moment. 

She added, “Most ultra-processed noodles (or food) are designed with an accurate proportion of sugar, fat, and salt so that they make you feel good. Since your body remembers the feeling, it craves it when you are feeling, making you addicted.” 

This is why films show that the answer to getting over a breakup lies in eating an entire tub of ice cream. It is probably the reason why when you open a packet of chips, you end up emptying it in no time. 

While joking about processed noodles that can stay in the pantry for decades and not get ruined, Mugdha Pradhan added, “When these kinds of food are broken down by the digestive system, preservatives are released into the bloodstream. They are toxic, start accumulating in the tissue, and can lead to health ailments. Moreover, your liver has to work harder to extract nutrients from good food.”

Now the question is whether you should give in to your cravings every time you experience the urge to eat noodles or limit their consumption.