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Living a Bland Life

Indonesia and Bali Suffering a 'Crisis of Spice' as Chili Pepper Prices Soar.

(1/8/2011) As any visitor to Indonesia or aficionado of the country's cuisine can testify, Indonesians love their chili peppers. Cabe, in one form or another, finds its way into almost all Indonesian recipes and the wide range of chili-based sambal are always set a prideful place on any Indonesian dining table.

This inescapable culinary "fact of life" serves as prologue to a growing crisis of high chili prices in Bali and the rest of Indonesia, where a kilogram of chilies can now cost a small ransom of Rp. 100,000 (US$11).

Fueled by bad crops and poor weather conditions, the cost of a daily dose of chili has now surpassed by a factor of 5 the cost of a kilo of chicken, the meat of choice for many budget-conscious families.

Field observations conducted by the Bali Department of Industry and Commerce reveals the highest price for chilies in the Karangasem region of Bali at Rp. 100,000 per kilogram with an average price of Rp. 80,000 (US$8.90) in many other areas of the island.

For comparison purposes, the minimum monthly wage for a worker in Bali of Rp. 1,110,000 (US$123) and a kilogram of chicken costing Rp. 17,000 (US$1.90).

The spokesman for the Bali provincial government, Ketut Teneng, is blaming the very high prices on chili peppers on low production, high demand, poor weather conditions and lower-than-normal import of the peppery commodity from areas outside Bali.

While a shortage of chili peppers and rocket-high prices may seem hardly like news to the rest of the world, the central role peppers play in the daily life and cuisine of the Balinese have made the "pepper crisis" front page news in local media.

Scientist suggest that the ingestion of chili peppers induce the release of endorphins - opiate receptors in the brain that help the body alleviate pain and induce pleasure centers not unlike the medicinal effects of morphine and codeine.

The importance of chili in the daily life of the archipelago and the chance that higher prices may place this commodity out of the reach of many Indonesians could soon see many folks in these parts suffering painful withdrawal symptoms.