Red heads from the Italian bread soup at the weekly meeting

Red heads from the Italian bread soup at the weekly meeting

Yes, perhaps a bit of a tired topic, the co-editors agreed, but if you say the word menopause In the end they will read your piece. Or else: sex. ‘Animals always do well. And soup is as such not a bad theme, you know.’ So on we go again.

Something strange had happened. In a departure from the usual routine, bowls of soup had been served at the weekly science meeting. Normally, the science editors eat trays full of culinary items from the company restaurant during their scientific discussions, but this time soup was placed on the conference table. No fancy consommé, but a thick soup that offered something to hold the spoon. The dish was delivered from far away, wrapped in newspapers, but still arrived very warm because the liquid of thick soup cannot flow.

It had been Italian bread soup, composed of canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, stock, legumes, string beans, kale and pieces of sweet potato. And so also bread, the maker has still checked it. Sometimes she also added chili flakes to her soup, but not this time.

Less than five minutes after the editors had swallowed their first bite, their heads were like fetters, and it remained that way until they discussed the final black hole. Red heads. Very strange. The connection with the use of the soup was unmistakable.

In retrospect, the phenomenon turned out not to be so rare. When one of the diners had another soup two weeks later, this time from the restaurant, he was red again and another had already said that he often got a red head, also from hot tea and coffee and the like.

Digestion and storage of food

The latter was the hint that was not noticed. The first thing you think is that the red face is an expression of the heat that is released when the food digestion system is started. Transporting, converting and – especially – storing food components in the form of glycogen or fat takes a lot of energy and a large part of it is released in the form of heat. The extra energy consumption can be as much as 10 percent of the total energy used every day, unless you are a sports fanatic, in which case it is less. Not everyone uses the same amount of energy to digest and store the same amount of food and it has been thought that this may explain why some people become fat sooner than others. There has been a lot of interest in ‘diet-induced thermogenesis’ recently.

But thermogenesis always starts slowly and only reaches its maximum an hour and a half after eating. That makes it unlikely that she has anything to do with the red heads. Coffee and tea contain almost nothing that requires energy.

Where did those red heads come from? Google couldn’t figure it out either. ‘Facial flushing after (eating) a hot meal’ received attention on Reddit and other forums, but it yielded little useful information. The Wikipedia entry ‘flushing (physiology)’ mainly placed flushing in the medical sphere: fever, allergy, poisoning and excessive sunburn. Well, taking a hot shower naturally also gives you a red head, as well as running and coughing, and there is the well-described reaction to eating hot food, so to speak, the sambal effect. Some people get red heads from drinking alcohol, mainly Japanese, Chinese and Koreans because they process alcohol differently than we do: Asian flush. The hormonally controlled hot flashes, the hot flashes of menopause, are also included in the Wiki entry and a separate corner has been set aside for the ‘sex flush’. This is the indication for the red discolouration of all kinds of body areas under the influence of heavy sex, especially sex that culminates in an orgasm. According to Wikipedia, women discolour earlier and more severely than men. As far as could be determined, none of this occurred during the meeting of the science editors.

The modest blush

Now it is of course known that in addition to ‘flushing’, English also has ‘blushing’: the modest blushing as a milder form of getting a bright red head. While flushing mainly receives attention from doctors and physiologists, blushing is entirely the domain of psychologists. After all, blushing can be an expression of embarrassment, joy, fear and anger and all those other emotions. Blushing can be so subtle that an infrared-sensitive camera must be used to detect changes in the facial thermal pattern. This became clear when psychologists encouraged heterosexual psychology students to – superficially – physically examine each other. The heat pattern of the ‘patient’ face changed more dramatically when the ‘doctor’ was of the opposite sex and as he/she got closer to intimate areas. But it was actually mainly the camera that observed it, whether the students themselves saw it was not yet certain in 2012. Maybe they suspected something.

The thermographic camera was also used to determine which part of a girl’s face responds mainly to a compliment expressed early in a serious conversation and which part responds mainly to a late compliment. What exactly came out of that was not clear to the outsider, his eye got stuck on the casual note that animals cannot blush. Well, the thermographic camera sees things differently. The heat patterns in the faces of monkeys (small and large) also change predictably and reproducibly under the influence of joy or annoyance.

Reader! There is no way around it anymore: it has not been possible to find out why the soup eaters turned so red. At the end of these reflections there was a sudden thought: was it a special emotion? Joy? Surprise? Confusion?