Is Capsaicin A Cure-All? Yes — Chilies Bring More than The Heat
You feel it when you’re eating spicy food… That slight burn that brings about a light sweat.
And even though it’s a little bit uncomfortable, the pain dissipates quickly. You’re left with a headiness — a light euphoria — so you keep on eating the peppers, chilies or hot sauces that brought you to this desired place. It feels a little bit like you do when you’re falling in love.
What you don’t know is that not only do these spicy bits bring on the good feels, but they’re actually good for you. Instead of doing damage to your innards — as those eating spicier food than they’re used to think — you’re making yourself more healthy.
Capsaicin, the chemical responsible for all of this, is the active ingredient in chili peppers. And capsaicin is found in every kind of pepper and chili from the tiniest and blandest to the deathly hot Ghost Peppers (just not green peppers — the capsaicin is missing through a glitch in its DNA).
In the wild, the presence of capsaicin scares away most mammals, but humans have outsmarted the natural engineering of these plants.
Early on, we realized chilies have natural antimicrobial properties. Fresh chilies contain folic acid, potassium and vitamins A, E and more vitamin C than in an orange. The Maya were known to prescribe chilies for ailments like ear aches, bowel troubles, respiratory problems and even toothaches.
In modern times, studies have shown that capsaicin significantly helps reduce nasal congestion and sinus pressure from the common cold or allergies. It’s also used topically in creams for pain relief (the capsaicin stimulates the wearer to release endorphins that bring on euphoria) and there are capsaicin creams to ease the symptoms of psoriasis.
There are even ways to use capsaicin for weight loss. Regularly eating spicy foods has been shown to speed metabolism, help burn fat and suppress appetite. In our personal experience, we’ve had really interesting results from doing the Master Cleanse where you survive on just a mixture of water, lemon juice, grade B maple syrup and ground cayenne pepper for more than a week. It’s a very satisfying drink that helps with your fasting and we’re affected in the best way — it makes us feel remarkably good with a natural high.
There is a reason many of the probiotic drinks and kombuchas offer versions favored with cayenne. There’s a huge majority of people that enjoy both the warming effect and the feeling of being satiated it provides. Our favorite Kombucha is made right here in SoCal Healthade.
In Southern California, we get to enjoy the amazing regional cuisines of our neighbors to the south — mainly Mexico — and there is so much variety to the flavors that different chilies and peppers impart.
The idea that your pain receptors are producing endorphins creates a desire to eat spicy food — it’s a pain and pleasure kind of thing — culinary S&M, if you will. So we do. Here is a great chart of peppers and chilis organized by heat.
We have a million reasons to eat jalapeño, but our favorite right now is with fresh watermelon that’s tart, firm and super juicy. We slice watermelon super thin, like carpaccio, and combine it with thin slices of Serrano chilies or fresh jalapeño, cilantro leaves, crumbled cotija cheese, olive oil, salt, pepper and some lime juice. It is the most delicious salad ever — juicy, tart, tangy, spicy and rounded out with the salty cotija cheese.
We grow these incredible habanero chilies in our parking lot and they are so hot, you only need a pinch to make an entire pot of mole sauce. We also use them to make a delicious salsa verde with roasted tomatillos, roasted jalapeños, roasted onions and garlic, habanero chilies, fresh lime juice, olive oil and fresh cilantro.
Cocktails are another vehicle we like to use for chilies. We make a jalapeño simple syrup with jalapeños, agave, sugar and water. We bring the combination to a boil to dissolve the sugar and let the jalapeños steep for days in the refrigerator. We strain the peppers out and combine it with fresh lime juice, tequila, a splash of Cointreau and you have a to-die-for jalapeño margarita.
We pickle every kind of pepper and chili. We just buckets and buckets of different pickled chilies because I’m obsessed, and what’s great about pickling is that it takes some of the heat out of the chili. See our recipe below! We put those chilies in everything — salads, on top of flatbread pizza, in quesadillas.
They elevate everything you make, imparting a brightness and a spice that we love. When we entertain at home, we’ll throw some pickled Fresno chilies on a salad and our guests can’t stop eating it. The pickled chilies add such a different dimension — with the star anise and the coriander— people can’t identify what it is, but they love it.
Plus, we’re getting them all jacked up on endorphins and they’re stumbling around, unable to explain why they feel good, which should be the mission of all good food.
Here is our recipe:
Pickled Fresno Chili Peppers
1 lb Fresno Chili Peppers, cut in 1/4 inch coins
1 1/2 Cups Water
1 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Cider Vinegar
2 Cinnamon Sticks
5 Star Anise pods
2 T Coriander Seeds
2 T Black Peppercorns
2 T Sea Salt
1 Medium Red Onion, julienned
4 cloves Garlic
In cheesecloth satchel add Cinnamon Sticks, Coriander Seeds, Star Anise, Black Peppercorns.
In medium pot, add: water, sugar, salt, vinegar, spice satchel, garlic, red onion and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add Chili coins and stir. Remove from heat, let cool completely and transfer to glass jar with tight lid. Let it sit overnight in refrigerator.
Store in refrigerator for up to 1 month.
After you have devoured all of the chilis and onions, the left over pickling liquid makes an excellent vinaigrette by adding some of your favorite olive oil (Approx 3 parts oil to 1 part pickling liquid).