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Alex Webb: I wandered between the colors of the spices to photograph them

Culture / -

© Rebecca Norris
© Rebecca Norris

Spices have always conjured up images of distant, exotic lands, vibrant colors and intense flavors. Magnum Photos photographer, Alex Webb, who has put together the exhibition in the Spices Cluster, talks about his photographic journey through India, between ingredients, people and rituals.

Merchants, travelers and conquerors have all landed in India following the Spice Routes, ancient trade routes steeped in charm and mystery. When you think about this land, you immediately smell the intense fragrance of the bazaars and the aromatic flavors of the food, a rich contrast of flavors and colors. Alex Webb tells us about his journey that involved "walking, waiting and photographing".
You are in charge of the photographic exhibition within the Spice Cluster. Can you tell us which countries and areas you visited for your shoots and how you selected the images?
As India—and particularly the southern state of Kerala—is one of the primary sources for spices, I wandered throughout this region. I visited a variety of spice production locales and explored the culture of spices—the towns, the festivals, and other public activities of the region. Additionally, I spent time in the Spice Market in Delhi, which is one of the largest in the world.

You worked for National Geographic, and your photographs very much reflect the culture of travel, which is historically associated with spices. Is there a particular food that you ate during your travels that excited you, maybe the taste, the sharing of it, the form, the emotional aspect?
Indian food, especially the southern cuisine of Kerala, is richly complex. It often mixes multiple tastes–sometimes hot and sweet simultaneously—along with the visual delight of the food itself, thanks to its saffron-colored tumeric, deep red chilies, and other brilliantly colored spices. So I guess it’s not surprising that my photographs of Indian spices—and the cultures and events surrounding them—teem with hot reds, intense oranges, and vivid yellows.

The theme of Expo Milano 2015 is Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. Through your photography have you covered or interpreted this theme?
For Expo Milano 2015, I decided to photograph Indian spices—including pepper, tumeric, ginger, cardemon, and chilies—because they are an integral part of many cuisines worldwide.

About your way of photographing you said: "I only know how to approach a place by walking. For what does a street photographer do but walk and watch and wait and talk, and then watch and wait some more, trying to remain confident that the unexpected, the unknown, or the secret heart of the known awaits just around the corner". Has this way of walking and waiting and getting to know your subject changed the way you perceive the environment and therefore photograph it?
Over the years, I’ve found that exploring a particular culture by walking and waiting and photographing in its streets has changed me utterly—not only as a photographer, but also as a human being.  My choosing to work this way—intuitively and spontaneously as a street photographer—has ultimately made all the difference for me and for my work.

A trip around the world of the coffee bean: 400 billion cups consumed globally

Economy / -

PG le tazzine di caffè nel mondo
@Richard Levine_Demotix_Corbis

After petroleum, coffee is the second most traded product with an annual production of 148 million 60 kg bags. Mugs, demitasses, cups and sacks are commonly cited in statistics and as profits, but few realize that it is not only a matter of macro or micro economics, but also one of style.

Italian roast coffee consumption has doubled
Both the consumption of Italian roast coffee and the sales of moka  (Italian stovetop coffee-makers) and espresso machines have doubled in just a few short years in Germany (the largest market in Europe according to market research institute GFK) and this trend is spreading throughout the world. Even in Asia, where tea is sacrosanct, the consumption of coffee is increasing by leaps and bounds, according to the International Coffee Organization, with a 4 percent annual increase year after year.

Similar name, the price less so
While the name is comparable all over the world, there are as many ways of making and enjoying coffee as there are variations in price. For example, in Australia  the price of coffee has increased more than 15 percent in a single year, while in the United States for two years it has been falling. Coffee, grown in the Ethiopian province of Caffa, is called Qahwa in Arabic, coffee in Anglo-Saxon countries, Ca Phe in Vietnam (the second largest producer and exporter in the world), and kopi in Malaysia. Local variations with similar-sounding pronunciations; today the term “espresso” has also become more widely used.
Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia have in common that they each share the custom of drinking the beverage with others in a social setting. This communal habit has endured wars and even the most disastrous world crises.  While 200 million workers are employed directly in coffee production, there has been a sharp increase as well in the sectors of processing, consumption, catering and local establishments where it is served, that has created an incredible and growing number of jobs – estimated between 20 and 23 million.
From gossip to Cuban cigars
The strongest example of conviviality comes, surprisingly, from Germany (with more than 7 kg of coffee per person drunk each year) where the term for a get-together for coffee, particularly when referring to a group of women,  is Kaffeklatsch, or “gossip over coffee.” Sipping the aromatic beverage alone is less enjoyable and that’s why from the beginning the first coffee bars began to offer cakes and pastries (in Cuba, on the other hand, it is almost a requirement to smoke a strong-smelling cigar) to entice a pleasant mix of men and women. These local public places started in the 1800s in Constantinople, Venice, Vienna, Paris and London where they quickly multiplied, where the fashion of making and drinking the dark beverage was adapted to local customs which rapidly became the norm at home as well.

Meditating under Bedouin tents
For centuries, in Bedouin tents around Dubai, coffee was prepared in three phases both to help meditation and in honor of guests, utilizing a boiling technique. “The first time is strong like life, the second like love and the third like death.” Even though it’s a stimulant, the dark concoction has been used since the 1400s by Sufi mystics to assist in concentration. Coffee was made by infusion in Europe, North Africa and Africa where it was common to add – according to the individual drinker’s taste - salt, sugar, honey, butter, cardamom, whole cloves or cinnamon. In Cuba, at the noted cafè  Escorial, the ritual of strong black boiling-hot coffee was further enhanced with a selection of fine cigars.

With sugar and pistachios
Of course, the most ancient styles of making coffee come from the Middle East and Africa where it originated, although only 12 percent of the world’s supply is produced there. All of Africa, particularly North Africa, has seen double digit increases in consumption (more than 50 percent in eight years), but with a negative element: exports have not seen the dynamic growth curves found elsewhere primarily due to local warfare.
For centuries, coffee has been synonymous, both at home and in public houses, with the Turkish beverage served in metal cups, heavily sweetened, with two fingers of coffee grounds (to leave at the bottom) and flavored with pistachios, most famously at the Ark Kahveshi in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. A curious fact is that Turkey’s coffee consumption is very low at barely 550 grams per capita. In the Arabian peninsula the three phase coffee ritual that entails frequent shaking of the boiling-hot urn, starts with an additional step: to calm guests’ fears of any nasty surprises, the host is the first to taste the beverage.

Coffee to combat northern chill
The most avid coffee consumers are not, as one would think, Italians or Arabs, but rather the residents of northern Europe, with Finland in first place with an annual consumption per capita of 12 kg, followed by the rest of northern Europe. Masses and religious ceremonies typically end with drinking coffee in such abundance that it is sometimes referred to as the third sacrament of the Finnish Lutheran Church.
Meanwhile in the US, the presence in every household of a filter coffeemaker demonstrates the widespread habit of offering and drinking the steaming beverage on every occasion. More than 54 percent of adults – approximately 110 million people – drink coffee daily, men more so than women, more than three cups a day for the majority. But for the true disciples of the coffee bean, Americans commit a sacrilege: reheating it continuously so that it loses its aroma and flavor.

In Hong Kong, only for couples and mixed with tea
A large factor in the economic expansion of coffee cultivation is the diffusion in bars and bistros, as well as at home, the morning and afternoon rituals of a steaming cupful. Because of this, Europe has maintained record consumption levels with Finland in the lead, followed by Germany with 7 kg per capita per year, immediately followed by France with 5.4 kg. Italy drinks 4.8 kg and, in addition to straight coffee, has also spread the fashionable habit of cappuccino, now imitated all over the world.
In the winter there is the custom of imbibing Irish coffee, made with whiskey, that was first offered by Pan Am to console passengers whose flights were cancelled. And while in Senegal coffee is made with Longorum pepper that is claimed to have medicinal properties, the oddest blend may be that of Hong Kong, where consumed on the street is a mix of tea, sweetened condensed milk and coffee, and is considered a drink only for couples.

China, the world’s largest market
China, with its dizzying growth of 15 percent annual growth for some time now (compared to a worldwide increase of two percent), is becoming such an important market that all the major coffee shop chains worldwide have rushed to open spacious coffee bars in metropolitan cities. Korean, American, European and Chinese coffee house proprietors are constructing lavishly furnished, fashionable spaces, resulting in a spiral of ever higher prices. Luckily, even the most casual drinking spots have begun to have Italian espresso machines while the moka has become a fixture in many homes. The world market in fact now depends less on price and market speculation, rather by how and where the habit of coffee and cappuccino for varied occasions continues to broaden its global appeal.

Use, quality, cultures, flavor, methods of making coffee: the Cluster Coffee Expo Milano 2015 is a unique exhibition space, to discover the world in an espresso cup.

From Libido to Rashes, the Chemistry of Aphrodisiac Foods

Taste / -

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From Libido to Rashes, the Chemistry of Aphrodisiac Foods
© Anna Hoychuk
From Libido to Rashes, the Chemistry of Aphrodisiac Foods
© Timmary
From Libido to Rashes, the Chemistry of Aphrodisiac Foods
© Christian Jung
From Libido to Rashes, the Chemistry of Aphrodisiac Foods
© Chamille White
From Libido to Rashes, the Chemistry of Aphrodisiac Foods
© optimarc
From Libido to Rashes, the Chemistry of Aphrodisiac Foods
© Lidante
From Libido to Rashes, the Chemistry of Aphrodisiac Foods
© AnjelikaGr
From Libido to Rashes, the Chemistry of Aphrodisiac Foods
© lazyllama
From Libido to Rashes, the Chemistry of Aphrodisiac Foods
© Nata-Lia
From Libido to Rashes, the Chemistry of Aphrodisiac Foods
© Boltenkoff

Softness, scents, colors and sequences of gestures - the secret link between libido and hives, are found in the merits of cocoa, the mischievousness of the banana, the machismo of the truffle. The effect of aphrodisiac foods, proven by science, is discovered to be varied and surprising

Beauty, magic, gestures, rhythms and music make food an aphrodisiac, but there is also a bit of chemistry. In fact, there are substances that have a proven physiological effect, such as zinc (it must be said that zinc is one of the best sexual stimulants), histamine, phenylethylamine and nitrous oxide which, if present in foods, can promote love.
The first substance that is notable for its serious influence on the sexual act is histamine. It is a vasoactive substance – meaning it changes the volume and diameter of the blood vessel walls. Our body produces histamines in response to even the slightest insult by an allergen (redness, hives, mild inflammation). Our bodies produce histamines that enter the bloodstream and also  some foods contain pre-formed histamines, so their intake can have similar effects. To be precise, the effect of histamine foods that interests us here is: the increase in the ability to have orgasms. Foods that are histamine liberators, or that induce the release of endogenous histamine, are chocolate, strawberries, pineapples and exotic fruits, shellfish, egg whites, sauerkraut, alcohol, potato starch, oily seeds and nuts (walnuts, almonds, peanuts, kola nuts), coffee and legumes (lentils and beans). Foods that already contain histamines are in first place, fermented cheeses (the most flavorful: blue cheese, Swiss cheese, camembert, have up to 1,300 mcg / g); followed by fresh fish (oily fish, tuna and salmon), shellfish and seafood, sauerkraut, and, among the vegetables, spinach (37 mcg / g) and tomatoes (22 mcg / g). Most notorious are oysters and mussels: they are bio-indicators of the condition of the waters, because they tend to accumulate pollution.
It is part of the wide range of foods capable of activating different stimulating actions. In addition to histamine, cocoa is full of phenylalanine, an essential amino acid that is linked toning up and  exciting the nerves. It contains phenylethylamine, an aromatic amine that the brain produces naturally when you are in love or sexually aroused: it activates the central brain neurotransmitters linked to pleasure. It also contains theobromine, the stimulant present in largest quantities and an alkaloid similar to caffeine from the chemical point of view due to the effects it causes on the various systems of the human organism, although in a milder form. It  produces a stimulation on the central nervous system, the respiratory system and the muscular-skeletal system, with a slightly more intense effect on smooth muscle tissue, such as cardiac contraction and the bladder. It stimulates the production of serotonin, the hormone of humor and well-being. According to research presented by the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, the fatty acids of chocolate are able to induce the production of endogenous cannabinoid compounds (i.e., similar to cannabis, but produced by the body).
Herbs, spices, chili
Many herbs and spices provide an important stimulus;  including  tarragon, black pepper, cloves and oregano. Saffron contains crocin, a highly effective antioxidant that can also increase the frequency of intercourse. The capsaicin in chili peppers that gives it the characteristic spiciness, is a powerful antioxidant, as well as an invigorating vasodilator.
In Egypt, honey was used during weddings. Today we can confirm that there is a relationship between  honey and the success of married life.  Starting with breakfast cereal and honey: several studies argue that  oats with honey can stimulate the secretion of testosterone and therefore increase male sexual desire. It should be noted that honey is rich in boron and minerals that serve a role in sex and its readily absorbable sugars are necessary for the production of seminal fluid.
The truffle
The truffle is a male aphrodisiac, in particular the white truffle, which contains androstenediol, a precursor of the male hormone: the male body converts it efficiently into testosterone, however it is not converted into estrogen.
A broadcast aired on the BBC in 2009, "The Truth About Food" presented a report based on research that ingesting four cloves of garlic a day, for three consecutive months, would have therapeutic effects on male impotence, especially for  elderly subjects with high cholesterol problems. After broadcast, the sale of garlic in Britain rose by over 30%.  Coldiretti, an organization of Italian agricultural businesses,  said that news extolling the virtues of the many varieties of garlic produced in Italy and exported all over the world, adds that the red onion has the highest content of nitrous oxide, which is the active ingredient in Viagra.
Celery, asparagus, green leafy vegetables 
Some vegetables - to be eaten fresh, if possible rather than packaged-  offer unexpected hidden virtues. It should be noted first that celery, is low in calories, fresh, vital and has specific abilities to help the flow of blood and clean out the arteries. It is also rich in essential trace elements. There is also a wealth of benefits to be praised from asparagus which contains high amounts of  the amino acid asparagine - or aspartic acid - which gives a particular smell to urine as it metabolizes the degradation  of sulfurs such as thiols and thioesters, while it also offers some of its mischievous effectiveness. Deficiency of folic acid can cause lack of orgasm in both women and in men. Remedies? Lettuce at full blast, salads, spinach and all green leafy vegetables.
The mischievousness of the banana is not limited to the shape or firmness of its alluring  pulp, but it is also  based on bufoterina, the alkaloid content found in the peel.
Beware of the vasodilators
Some clarification should be made about the vasodilators. They can make you feel warm without visceral work on the structure, that is, on the affected part. For example, the intake of niacin, a peripheral vasodilator, can make you sweat and drip, but then when it comes down to it is ineffective. Attention also on wine. According to various studies, red wine has an entire list of benefits including sexual, according to a publication of the hospital SM Annunziata in Florence. Women who moderately consume wine have an overall sexual response better than teetotalers. In addition, a glass of red wine is packed with resveratrol, the powerful antioxidant and organic wines have even more of it. But, as we know, a glass of wine can be traitor too, both for the drowsiness which it induces, and  the vasodilator effect that, as mentioned, can be counterproductive.

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