According to statistics, about a third of the globes population eats hot peppers every single day.
In general, cultures that have hot spicy foods as part of their natural daily diet are situated in hot climates situated in regions close to the equator ; South America, India, Asia and Africa.
There are two basic explanations why cultures in hot tropical climates developed a taste for hot spicy foods.
The first reason would seem to be refrigeration or more correctly the lack of it: Foods in hot climates spoil easier and faster, and even food that won’t automatically make you sick goes off quickly. Spices can disguise the taste of spoilt food and in certain instances preserve them.
The second reason is surprising though. Capsaicin, the natural chemical found in chili causing the heat sensation increases blood circulation, pumping more blood to the skin’s surface making you sweat. Sweating is one of the body’s best defenses against overheating. The heat that the blood brings to the surface is released out and away from the body in affect cooling the body.
Most likely that when the first peoples who settled in tropical climatic regions discovered and started to eat chili peppers their bodies naturally adapted to the fact that the spice cooled them down.
Obviously you won’t find chili in the natural cuisines of Eskimos and Scandinavians and as in most cold climate cultures the chili and other hot spicy foods are not natural to the European diet.
So why do most of us love to eat chili? Chilies burn our taste buds, make our eyes water and bring us out in a sweat. Why, because we “love the burn”? Apparently we enjoy afflicting ourselves with spicy taste sensations.
So why do we so enjoy inflicting pain on one of the most sensitive organs in our body, the tongue. Well that’s going in we also assault our tush on the way out!
Actually spicy is not one of the 5 basic taste sensations; Bitter, Sour, Sweet, Salty, and Umami (savory). Spicy is not a flavor. Spiciness is defined as a pungent taste sensation giving heat and piquancy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pungency
Unlike other naturally bitter or harsh tasting substances e.g. coffee and tobacco, chilies are unique among foods that we should otherwise not enjoy. Coffee has caffeine and tobacco has nicotine both substances that are addictive and which makes them desirable. The natural chemical of the chili pepper, Capsaicin that makes the chili spicy hot does not seem to have any addictive qualities whatsoever. And yet the predilection for hot spicy chili flavor is today worldwide; incorporated into numerous dishes and food culture in some way.
The chili pepper in all its infinite varieties is a member of the Capsicum category of flowering plants including deadly nightshade and ranges from sweet bell peppers (no heat) to the Naga chili (the world’s hottest). It is also remarkable in that the chili pepper is almost universally connected to a certain geographical cuisine type (Asian) but actually is native to a totally different geographical region on the other side of the globe. The chili pepper and all other Capsicum varieties is native to South and Central America, where they have been grown for at least 7500 years and was a fundamental staple of the Mesoamerican diet together with maize and beans.
It is said that Christopher Columbus encountered them on his first voyage to the Caribbean in 1492 and eventually introduced the fiery fruit to Europe after his second expedition to the Americas. In truth it was most likely the Portuguese who took the chili pepper (particularly the piri-piri chili) back to Portugal and the Cape Verde islands. The piri-piri did so well that they became began to grow wild in West Africa. Consequently piri-piri spiced foods are synonymous with West African cuisine.
Between 1498 and 1549 the chili spread eastwards both over the silk route and through Portuguese conquests in India, the Spice Islands (today Malaysia and Indonesia), China, South East Asia and finally by 1549 the chili was known as far as Japan.
Up until the discovery of the chili pepper the most prized spice was black pepper which in fact at the time was so costly that they were used as legal currency in some countries and was one of the principal motivators for ancient mariners to sail around the world looking for this prized spice. It was Christopher Columbus who first called the chili a “pepper” because like black and white pepper the chili offered both flavor and ‘heat’ to a dish.
The heat in chilies is created by the chemical, capsaicin. This is a hydrophobic (water-hating) chemical that are apt to secrete into the surfaces of the palate and the mouth causing irritation. Drinking water is useless for extinguishing the burning sensation as water cannot dissolve the chemical capsaicin but actually spreads it. Foods with a high fat content like milk and yoghurt will eliminate the chemical (this is why yoghurt is served with many Indian dishes).
In 1912 Wilbur Scoville (1845-1942) developed a method for measuring the strength of capsicum in a given pepper, which originally meant tasting a diluted version of a pepper and giving it a value. The world’s hottest chili peppers are the Red Savina Habanero and the Naga chili. Generally these peppers range from 350,000–570,000 Scoville Units as compared with a score of 2,500–5,000 for the jalapeno pepper.
Chilies and health
The Health benefits of eating chilies and the numerous ways in which chili is known to aid, relieve and prevent many conditions have been well known in many chili eating communities in Asia and the Americas but remarkably not well known in the West.
Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
Eating chilies has a very positive impact on people who are overweight, obese or are diabetic. Research by a team from the University of Tasmania, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in July 2006 claims that the normal eating of chilies can help significantly control insulin levels. After eating Chilies, the quantity of insulin the body needs to lower blood sugar level following a meal was reduced by a surprising 60%.
Improve Heart Health, Boost Circulation, Thins Blood and Helps Protect Against Strokes
As blood circulation boosters, chilies can have a huge impact on our health by helping to increase circulation and acts as a blood thinner to protect against strokes. Spicing up your diet with chilies is all we need to do to benefit from the many and vital health benefits they have to offer.
Acts as a Restorative & Relaxant
Chilies can have a Therapeutic effect, allowing you to relax more easily.
Capsaicin blocks a natural chemical called Substance P, which is involved in the transmission and perception of pain. As a result Chilies can be useful in relieving and preventing common problems such as headaches, migraines and discomfort caused by sinus problems, allowing a person to relax more easily.
Capsaicin also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which lend themselves perfectly to the relief of conditions such as irritable bowel, neuropathy caused by the onset of diabetes and psoriasis.
Helps Clear Congestion
Absolutely essential in the clearing of a blocked nose and chest congestion. Feel block up? Eat a good fiery curry and sweat out the problem. Nose clear and clear breathing…enjoy the heat!
Chili as a painkiller
Chili has been shown to relieve pains due to shingles as well as other skin ailments. It also helps to relieve cluster headaches, migraine and sinus the pain. Chili has also been used for muscle or joint pain like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, backache, strains, sprains, and frostbite.
Chilies Help to Burn Fat
Capsaicin is also a thermogenic composite, and is said to increase the metabolic rate by up to 23% which in turn can aid the fat burning process.
Eating chilies can also lower cholesterol, and to reduce the amount of fibrin in the blood, and as a result, lower the blood’s tendency to clot.
Chili beats winter chills
A good bowl of chili is always a great meal on a cold winter day. Not only does it warm us up, it also helps protect us from common winter conditions. Capsicum may reduce cold/flu symptoms, sinusitis, and respiratory problems.
Beats the blues
Capsicum boosts endorphins and other mood elevators, chili is a feel good food, fights depression and relieves stress
Lastly, it has been suggested in some studies that the chemical Capsaicin can help limit the spread of certain cancers including prostate cancer. This is a controversial issue and there are both positive and apposing thoughts on this subject
Any way why take the chance so here goes some of my favorite chili recipes:
Get a little chili in your life!
450 gram ground pork (can substitute for ground chicken, beef, or turkey)
6 garlic cloves, chopped
5 Thai birds-eye chilies
Fish sauce (a few splashes)
Dark, thick soy sauce (a few splashes)
1/4 chopped up red pepper (optional)
1/4 chopped up yellow pepper (optional)
1/2 chopped up onion
1 big handful of Thai Holy Basil
One fried egg each per person
Brown the ground pork in a wok or thick bottomed frying pan with a little vegetable oil
Take the fried pork out of the wok and set aside
Add the chopped garlic to the wok. Give it a couple stirs, just to get it nice and fragrant – don’t let it burn!
Add the onion and chilies, stir fry and add the minced pork back to the wok
Splash in to taste the fish sauce, thick soy sauce and bell peppers. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary. If it’s not spicy enough, take a few more chilies, chop up and add to the meat.
Stir fry all together, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. When everything is done and cooked, turn off the heat and add a big handful of Bai Krapow or Thai Holy Basil. Toss, and then serve immediately on top of steamed rice with a fried egg on top.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
3 large dried ancho chilies
1 T vegetable oil
100 gram diced bacon or pancetta
200 gram chopped onions
1.2 kg beef top side, cut into cubes
3 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon Mexican chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
4 large red bell peppers
1 Serrano pepper
1 poblano pepper
1 tin chopped tomatoes
bottle dark beer (preferably Mexican)
6- gram semi-sweet chocolate
Put the dried ancho chilies in a medium bowl and pour boiling water to just cover them. Let them soak until they softened.
Heated up the oil in an oven proof pot and then add the bacon to sauté over medium-high heat until it begins to brown. Next, I added the onions and reduced the heat to medium. Cover and cook until translucent.
Cut up the beef into chunks and sprinkled over with coarse salt and pepper.
Add the beef cubes to the pot. Stir with the onion and bacon mixture and let it brown.
Drain the dried chilies, and reserve the soaking liquid. Tear up the flesh of the chilies and put into a food processor or blender with 1 cup soaking liquid, the garlic, chili powder, cumin seeds, oregano, coriander, and 1½ teaspoons coarse salt. Process or blend to puree. If too thick, dilute with more chili soaking liquid,
Pour pepper puree over beef in pot.
Turn the heat on medium-low, bring it to a simmer and begin to cook the puree with the beef.
Meanwhile, roast the poblano pepper over an open flame. Wrap in a towel for 15 minutes to steam, and then peel. Cut up the Serrano pepper. Put the poblano, Serrano, and bell peppers into the food processor and process them until finely chopped, but not pureed, then added to the pot.
Next add the can of tomatoes and beer to the beef and bring to a simmer.
Cover the pot and place in preheated oven. Cook until the beef is tender, about 1 -1.5 hours.
Uncover and continue to cook until beef is fork tender.
Add the chocolate and stir all together. Continue cooking uncovered.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve this with sides of chopped cilantro, sour cream, chopped red onions, chopped avocado, shredded Monterey Jack cheese and tortillas.
2 servings of pasta
60 ml top quality extra virgin olive oil
10 cloves garlic peeled and sliced thinly
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
30 grams Italian flat-leaf parsley finely chopped
20 grams butter cubed
Sea salt to taste
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Bring a pot of water with 1 tbsp sea salt to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside the pasta, reserving a small cup of pasta water.
Heat olive oil in a sauce pan, add garlic and chili flakes. Sauté the garlic until it turns opaque.
Remove from the heat. The garlic will continue cooking in the hot oil on its own for a few more seconds in the hot oil, until they turn a light golden brown.
Add cooked pasta, 1-2 tbsp reserve pasta water, chopped parsley and cubed butter to the garlic & oil mixture. Stir to coat all the ingredients evenly. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
1 bunch of fresh coriander, leaves only (about 2 cups)
8 -10 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon salt
400 gram fresh hot green chili, seeded if wanting less heat
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons ground cumin seed
4 cardamom pods, seeds only
4 whole cloves, broken up
Process all the ingredients to a relatively smooth paste. Store in a jar with a tight cover.
Salsa Pico de Gall – Mexican fresh tomato and chili salsa
1 kg tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
3-5 small fresh jalapeño or serrano chili, finely chopped, including seeds
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Season to taste with additional chili, lime juice, and salt if needed.
1/2 kg dried sweet red peppers
3-5 dried hot red peppers
10 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Juice of 2 lemons
Grind the dried peppers and the garlic with a mortar and pestle or in a processor.
Stir in the olive oil, salt, cumin and lemon juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Add some fresh parsley or fresh coriander while grinding the peppers and garlic.
1 kg ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 medium size green pepper, roasted and peeled
5-6 hot peppers, medium size (depending on the level of heat you want)
1 bulb garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
3 tbsp sweet paprika
1/4 cup oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
Place the tomatoes into boiling water to loosen skins.
Peel the tomatoes and chop into pieces. Place in a colander to drain the liquid from the tomatoes.
Put the peppers over an open flame and broil until the skin is blackened. Place in a plastic bag and seal to steam for ½ hour to loosen skins for peeling.
Peel, core and remove the seeds and membranes from the peppers. Dice the peppers into small pieces.
While the tomatoes are draining, place the oil into a large pot. When heated, place the garlic and the peppers in the pot and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often. After 2 minutes, add the tomatoes, the salt, pepper, and paprika.
Cook uncovered until most of the liquid has been cooked off, approximately 2 hours. Ten minutes before turning off the heat, add the sugar and stir well.
15 shallots, peeled, cut in half and finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, cut in half & sliced
15 small sliced chilies
5 lime leaves shredded very fine
1 tsp. roasted shrimp paste finely grated
4 stalks lemon grass, bruised and very finely sliced
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
80 ml coconut oil
1. Combine above ingredients in deep bowl and mix well for 5 minutes.
2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
If you sauté finished sauce for two minutes over medium heat will enhance the beautiful flavor of this delicate sauce.
Sambal Tomat – Indonesian tomato and chili relish
750 gram large chili, seeded and chopped
750 gram bird’s eye chili, whole
1½ kg tomato, blanched, skinned, wedged and seeded
200 gram garlic, peeled and sliced
400 gram shallot, peeled and sliced
50 gram dried shrimp paste, roasted
100 gram palm sugar, chopped
4 each lemon juice
400 ml coconut oil
1 tbsp salt
Heat oil in heavy saucepan, add shallots and garlic and sauté until golden, add chilies and continue to sauté until chilies are soft. Add palm sugar and shrimp paste and continue to sauté until sugar caramelizes. Finally add tomatoes and continue to sauté until tomatoes are soft.
Set aside and cool. Grind in stone mortar or blender puree coarsely. Season to taste with salt and lemon juice.
Make sure to cook all ingredients over high heat while continuously mixing. This will preserve nice red color.