Recently AsiaSpa Magazine interviewed me and asked me a whole bunch of questions regarding chili’s (which I love BTW).
Chilies are associated with a range of health benefits, from heart protection to blocked sinus relief. Are all chilies made equal, and how much should we be aiming to include in a weekly diet?
Chilies are part of the capsicum family, so they are cousins of the capsicum (which is not spicy) and actually are not related to the pepper family. The burning or heat sensation we experience when chilies are eaten or put on a skin is because of the active component called capsaicin, which is found mainly around the seeds of the chili. When we bite into a chili or eat food which contains chili the capsaicin binds with pain receptors in the mouth and throat and our brain gets the message – “Fire in the House” and this is when we feel the heat. The brain responds to the fire sensation by increasing the heart beat, perspiration and release of body endorphins which is why many people really experience pleasure from eating spicy. Not all chilies are made equal and there are different levels of spiciness, which is determined by the amount of capsaicin in the chili. The heat of the chilies is measured in SHU, but to keep it simple what differs between the various kind of Chilies is the spiciness. Some kinds like Carolina Reaper are notoriously unbearable spicy wheres others such as cayenne and Thai chili are spicy but edible almost to everyone. Since Chilies also contain important vitamins like vitamin A and C, minerals like iron, magnesium and potassium as well as anti oxidants and important amino acids, they are considered as a super food and can assist in fighting anything from bacterial infections to prevention of heart diseases, cancer, autoimmune problems and even a recent study published in BMJ magazine suggested they can assist in increasing life expectancy. My advice to people who can sustain heat is to add chili to their diet on a daily basis. You don’t need to go crazy and burn your mouth with super hot chilies. Mild ones will do!
What chilies are most commonly found in the region?
Chilies are actually not native to Asia. They originated from South and Central America and are actually known to be one of the oldest cultivated crops and have been around for more than 7,000 years. The Aztec and Mayan traditions applied many uses for chilies apart from food flavoring and used them to fumigate houses and to help cure diseases
Columbus and later on other Portuguese and Spanish merchants brought the Chilies to South East Asia (Thailand and Indonesia), India and China. Chilies have been so quickly adopted in the region that within few years of the introductions by the seamen they became integral part of most Asian cuisines. The most common chilies in our region is the cayenne, bird’s eye chili (Thai Chili) and various localized version of jalapeno
Can they be taken medicinally, outside of being incorporated into regular meals? What for, and what would the benefits be?
Yes, there are commonly used products containing capsaicin, the active material in chilies. The benefits of capsaicin which have been known for years have been validated by research in recent years. So it’s common to find capsaicin incorporated into anti inflammatory ointments, numbing creams, patches to treat arthritis, dental uses etc
However, in order to utilize the benefits of chilies as contributing to weight loss, anti inflammatory, anti cancer, asthma relief, heart supportive etc it seems we still need to eat them… as they are best effective when they are absorbed through the digestive system and the overall fire feeling which contributes to increase heart rate, sweating and additional energy burning can only manifest if we eat the chilies…
Is “the hotter the better” when it comes to chili? How much do different varieties differ nutritionally?
Not really. Although when a chili is “spicier” it means that the contained capsaicin levels in it are higher, but our inability to consume a lot of it offsets the larger quantities. So my advice is to try get to a sustainable level of spiciness which allows you to enjoy the food, feel the hot sensation but would also allow you to eat it on a regular basis so probably mild-hot chilies should be adequate for most people. As a general rule, red chilies tend to be spicier than green ones
What’s your favorite way to enjoy chili?
I like to add chili to many dishes to create an oomph and enjoy the taste and health benefits. Whether I add chopped chili to a fresh coriander and tomato salad combined with extra virgin olive oil, lime and salt, to rice dishes and to one of my favorite cuisines – Indian, which most dishes are spicy. My hubby loves his pickled chilies and adds them to almost all the dishes
Also, when I feel fluish or developing sore throat and sickness, I immediately embark on attack of the flu equipt with the famous Black Mamba drink. This is what i can hot water, lots of ginger and lemon, honey and…Cayenne powder. The drink is very spicy and almost always allows me to overcome the flu!
One more thing. DO you happen to know why chil=lies can be addictive? Seems there are plenty of chilli heads out there!
Because of the burning sensation of chilies! when we eat chilies, the brain releases endrophines to allow it to “overcome” the pain caused by the chilies. Similar to other activities that release endorphines and make us feel good such as exercise and sports, the sensation can be addictive… but it’s a pretty good addiction to have
Hope you enjoyed,
Have a fabulous, Nutritious 2016, love