As summer draws near, we prepare some of our favorite recipes for fun in the sun. Many of us like to add an extra “kick” to our favorite dishes with a secret ingredient that maximizes flavor and satisfies our craving for spicy heat. Chile peppers are up to the task of adding not only some excitement to your foods, but also provide some interesting nutritional value to your diet.
Because chile peppers have seeds and grow from a flower, they are botanically classified as a fruit. But chile peppers are not all made equal. Each variety of chile pepper has its own unique characteristics of nutrients and flavor profile and a level of heat. The spicy heat of chile peppers is measured by the Scoville Heat Unit Scale, with sweet bell peppers being mildest in heat while Habanero and Ghost chile peppers being some of the hottest.
The Scoville Heat Unit Scale measures the level of capsaicin in a chile pepper. The higher the capsaicin, the more heat you are going to feel. But capsaicin is so much more than the tasty fiery flavor we experience for a chile pepper.
“In many cultures, chile peppers are used in food not just for the flavor, but for their nutritional value and the unique qualities of capsaicin”, states Dr. Desmonette Hazly, Comprehensive Integrative Health Specialist and Educator. “Chile peppers are high in vitamin C and capsaicin triggers a chemical process in the body that lessens the feeling of pain and decreases inflammation. The chile pepper has a lot going for it besides its flavor”
Chile peppers are a great addition to your spice repertoire, but Dr. Hazly recommends the following when including chile peppers into your diet:
- If you have health conditions or diet restrictions, check with your physician before you include chile peppers in your diet.
- Moderation. Moderation. Moderation. Chile peppers are wonderful, but they can have a bite to them and can cause great discomfort (and even pain) if too much is used in a recipe.
- Know your heat tolerance for spicy food before you include chile peppers in a recipe. If you or others are sensitive to the piquance of very hot chile peppers, use a milder chile pepper like bell peppers.
- When handling fresh or dried hot chile peppers, wear gloves, and make sure you Do Not Touch Your Eyes.
- Thoroughly wash all the cutting boards and utensils used to prepare the chile peppers to remove any residue.
- When beginning your exploration of chile peppers, start with milder varieties first and gradually move to experiment with hotter chile peppers. Your palate may need time to adjust if chile peppers have not been a part of your meal preparation.