Some foods are so spicy that consuming them can leave the more intolerant of us with an upset stomach. It was once believed that eating lots of spicy food could even cause gastric ulcers—a break in the tissue lining of the stomach—but this has since been proven false, the credit stolen by a bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori. If you find yourself retching with pain after lunch at an Indian food buffet, you’ve likely aggravated an existing condition and should probably have it checked out.
So as colorful as the expression is, eating spicy food can’t actually “burn a hole in your stomach”. At least, it shouldn’t be able to, which is why doctors at a hospital in Wuhan, China, were scratching their heads when a 26-year-old man with no history of gastrointestinal disorders was brought in after eating soup so spicy that it opened a hole in the wall of his stomach.
The soup in question was the broth of mala hot pot, one of the most popular variations of Chinese hot pot. The term málà literally means “numbing hot” and refers to the way your mouth feels after sipping the broth, which is made using a combination of chili pepper and a special spice, “Sichuan pepper”, known to cause a numbing sensation in the mouth.
Many hot pot restaurants in China give their customers the option to have their broth prepared with varying degrees of spiciness. The unlucky victim of this story had ordered the spiciest batch of mala hot pot on the menu, and it wasn’t long after he finished his meal that he began to feel an acute pain in his stomach.
After vomiting a large amount of blood (which may have been supplemented by the crimson red broth he had earlier consumed), the man was rushed to the emergency room of a local hospital, where the doctors found a hole in the wall of his stomach. The man had no medical history of ulcers or other gastrointestinal disorders, so the doctors concluded that the spicy mala soup must have burned right through his stomach tissue.
This may seem like a hasty diagnosis. However, at this particular hospital, roughly 15% of gastrointestinal cases are said to result from hot pot-related incidents. Doctors now even refer to these cases as “hot pot patients”.
Spicy food shouldn’t be able to destroy so many stomachs just because it’s spicy. There’s obviously something special going into the soup at the restaurants in Wuhan.
According to Sankei Biz, many hot pot restaurants now use cheap synthetic seasonings and additives instead of Sichuan pepper and other traditional, more expensive ingredients.
If you’ve ever tried real mala hot pot, you’d probably agree that any chemical additive capable of creating the same mouth-numbing sensation as Sichuan pepper is the last thing anyone should put in their body. And we thought MSG was bad…