Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Some like it hot

“Hot” is a hot word nowadays, used on dozens of occasions… “the soup is hot”, “the weather is hot”, “the deal is hot”, “the affair is hot”, the girl-next-door is hot”, etc, but the most beneficial ‘hot’ is when “the meal is hot”, as in spicy hot.

Many still approach hot food  with fear and panic, akin to poison or the forbidden fruit, totally oblivious of the myriad health benefits it offers.

The hottest of all hot foods is the red hot pepper, the awesome chili. Discovered by Christopher Columbus in the Carribean, he was the first European to ever taste the hot fruit. He called it ‘pepper’ because its pungent taste reminded him of the black and white precious peppercorns of the “Piper” genus.

“Capsicum”, the hot pepper genus, is native to Central and South America.  It was named by the Aztec Indians as “xili” or chili and was part of their daily diet since 1500 BC. They were domesticated in Mexico 6000 years ago.  The pods and berries were used entirely, fresh, preserved, dried, pickled, ground into powder or paste, smoked, roasted or charred.  The Mayans drank chocolate with ground chili pepper for extra energy.

Portuguese navigators brought them to Asia and they were later grown in Europe as botanical curiosities in the gardens of Spanish and Portuguese monasteries. The wise monks decided to experiment the chili’s culinary potential and were delighted with their discovery. “Priceless” they thought, as the chili was a perfect substitute for the fiery black pepper that was so expensive it was used as currency. They had uncovered a treasure in their gardens.

Their beauty is beyond dispute! Slender and graceful, a rainbow of vibrant colours from red to yellow, green, purple, white and umber black, so appealing, so seductive, hiding their secret fire beneath their soft skin. One bite and you are sharply aware of the mystic virtues of pleasure and pain.

The chili pepper has nothing to offer but good to mankind. Its medicinal value was written about since 1494 and ever since it has evoked a barrage of health discussions, myths, superstitions and endless healing powers.

“Capsaicin” is a substance that is the primary component of chili. When consumed the pain receptors send a message to the brain that something hot was consumed. The brain immediately responds by raising the heart-rate, increasing perspiration and the release of endorphins; all good!  Capsaicin causes the body to burn more calories, boosting your metabolism, thus encouraging weight-loss, desired by all.

An Australian study proved that adding chili peppers to meals may protect against cholesterol build-up. Cultures that eat hot spicy foods as in India and Mexico have a lower incidence of heart disease and stroke because chili peppers reduce the damaging effect of LDL (the bad cholesterol). Capsicum may fight inflammation which causes heart disease.

The American Association for Cancer Prevention recommends chili peppers for their ability to kill cancer and leukemic cells without hurting other cells.  They are high in nutrients like Vitamins C, A, E, a good source of Bs, calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron.

Still worried because of all the gastric and stomach problems hot food might aggravate? Toronto gastroenterologist Dr Khursheed Jeejeebhoy finds it ridiculous when patients admit they avoid hot food to protect their stomach.  “There is no evidence that hot food hurts your stomach. Hot peppers actually decrease the output of gastric acid. In fact it is good for your stomach”. A Hungarian study reports that “paprika”, which they are so very fond of, reduces stomach bleeding caused by  Aspirin.

Have we covered all the bases for the benefits of “hot”?

‘Capsaicinoids’ reduce cravings for fat, salty and sweet foods, all proved to be harmful.

There still remains the question of hypertension. High-blood pressure is almost an epidemic and we are all advised to decrease or avoid salt… but not spices. Capsicum’s high levels of Vitamins C and A,  strengthen the heart and the heat of the pepper increases the blood flow throughout the body, resulting in a strong cardiovascular system.

A Laval University 2011 study established that red pepper increases metabolism, causing your body to burn energy faster and more effectively. It normalises blood pressure, body temperature, regulates heart rhythm and improves memory.

What more can you ask from such an ancient plant which has been used for centuries by the wise for its medicinal values… and its taste!  Yes, its taste!  We crave it, because our bodies need it.

Hot peppers are mood – lifters.  They raise the level of endorphins and serotonin, and like chocolate,  we crave them for the very same reason.  They dull our pain, and give us a feeling of well-being.

This is the cold and flu season and red peppers are ready for the challenge. They eliminate mucus from colds and coughs, promote sweating, ease flu discomfort, help relieve asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, sinusitis, laryngitis and open up clogged nasal passages. 

Did you know that they stop bleeding wounds, heal ulcers, improve digestion and ease hunger pains? Those wise ancients were far ahead of modern science, it seems.

It is time to stock up on your hottest hot peppers; pickled, cooked, grilled, roasted, dried or fried. They can only do you good.

Stock up on your hot peppers and you will acquire a pharmacy on your spice rack.

The most intensively studied medicinal plant today is the “muy caliente”, red hot pepper!

“My two secrets for staying healthy:  wash your hands a lot, and eat red hot peppers”

Hillary Clinton

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