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October Edition: Chili Peppers!

As a kid I had a strong aversion to anything spicy. Food with heat or food that made my mouth burn didn’t make sense to me or to my palate. A true little Midwestern girl, sweet, bland or salty were the only tastes that did.  My mother and oldest brother couldn’t get enough of anything hot and spicy. Extra hot sauce on the Chinese takeaway or more chili sauce on the BBQ ribs was normal for them but way too much for me.

Flash forward a few years to when I lived in Southern India and had no choice, as chili snuck its way into everything, even salads. What was moderate heat to my Indian friends was fire in my mouth. As I don’t drink beer or eat chapatti it was difficult to buffer the spice, and we all know that water only makes matters worse. Honestly, how much yogurt can a girl eat? (The casein in dairy actually alleviates the burning sensation.) So instead of fighting it, I decided to embrace it? But in order to do so, I needed to understand WHY chili was in everything and WHAT its purpose was. HOW MANY types of chilies were there and WAS there really a difference between them? This was like opening Pandora’s Box as the chili itself was not even originally from India or anywhere near it!  The genus is from the Caribbean, but after Christopher Columbus’ doctor brought the seeds to Spain, the pungent fruit spread quickly all over the world. Still, India is where I learned about the healing power of spices – that they are not just for taste. Each has a purpose. I promise to dedicate an entire newsletter to spices, and I do have summaries of a few staple spices on my website but as this is chili month and just on the cusp of cold weather, its all about the turning up the heat.

Chili of some sort is present in every culture even if that culture’s cuisine is not thought of as particularly spicy. French cuisine is a great example. The French tend to snub their noses at spicy dishes, yet Basque cooking is filled with Piment D’Espiletteand you can find a form of paprika in most French kitchens. Could you imagine North African cooking with out Harisa or Indian food with out Sambal? Hot climate cultures, like in southern India, heavily spice their food for the purpose of making you sweat, which in turn cools the body. Clever, no? The spice also kills harmful bacteria in the stomach, which can be a problem in countries with waterborne illnesses.

The Health Benefits

Quite frankly, it not the whole Chili that has all of the health benefits. The Chili, although packed with beta carotene, vitamin A, C, iron and magnesium – the benefits below are mostly due to the Capsaicin found in the seeds and the ribs.

Chili stimulates blood circulation and has actually been known to stop heart attacks. I know, it sounds strange but patients have been given chili extract every 15 minutes at the onset of a heart attack and the attack stopped. Go figure.

Chili can make you happier too, as it stimulates endorphins in the brain, and gives you energy. I give my clients a morning shot of Ginger, Lemon and Cayenne – better then espresso and way more potent too!

Chili is superb for sensitive stomachs and ulcers. Similar in its effect to curcurum, capsicun can decrease pain in sensitive bellies. Chilies can have a double whammy effect – they not only eradicate harmful bacteria in the belly but are an anti-inflammatory as well.

This last anti-inflammatory statement actually confuses me as we all know that Pepper Spray is pretty dangerous. It swells the fibers in the eyes and if you touch it, it gets worse. The only antidote for getting sprayed is something with casien in it – so yogurt in your eyes! (yogurt BTW, reduce oil and shrinks pores on your face, so if ever…)

Seeds or no seeds?
The inner ribs and seeds of a chili pepper are where most of the heat is found. Remove these and it lowers the heat substantially. When deseeding and chopping chilies, don’t forget to wash your hands, the chopping board and the knife.  This may seem obvious to some but I have burned my eyes on several occasions forgetting this not-so-minor detail. The oils from chilies will linger unless removed, so I offer this “note to self” – rinse thoroughly.

Can I really loose weight with capsicum?
Capsaicin is the heat component in chili peppers. It is a natural metabolic expeditor and works by speeding up gastric juices. In other words, add a pinch of chili to your veggie juice, lemon ginger shot, or just sprinkle on your lunch and this can not only cut your appetite but can and will speed up your metabolism. I make my chocolate with chili; I figure one natural blessing counteracts one indulgence.

Healthy foods chef, nutritional muse, recipe re-creator, explorer, educator and writer – demystifying the very sexy vegetable along the way…