We like spicy food, we do, and we eat it quite often – all kinds – thai, indian, korean, mexican, caribbean, colombian, and yes, it almost always does painful and weird things to our lower digestive tracts as well. We read that the active ingredient in hot peppers, capsaicin, (from the latin name for the fruit – yes fruit – capsicum) releases endorphins when ingested so the painful, mouth-on-fire feelings you get are offset by a sense of pleasure, all of which is peculiarly masochistic. Indeed, a recent MSN (ugh) online article with facts from well-known UK supermarket chain TESCO tells us that,
“If you can stand the heat, then chili peppers contain an anti-inflammatory substance called capsaicin and has been linked with pain relief associated with conditions such as arthritis. Chilies are also thought to protect your heart, fight infection thanks to large amounts of vitamins A and C.”
We also know that certain peppers are more or less friendly than others – jalapenos (nice and friendly), serranos (slightly more firey but mostly fine), cayennes (pretty darn spicy, be careful), habaneros (exceedingly spicy, use carefully and sparingly), and because of that we’ve read a lot (okay some) about how to handle the spiciest of peppers (latex gloves; no contact with eyes, mouth, soft organs etc.; remove seeds and ribs to reduce spicyness), all of which we practice more or less to the letter of the law. However, the answer to the thorny issue of being able to tell just how spicy a particular pepper is has remained elusive
Culinary giant Jacques Pepin always tastes a little bit of his peppers before cooking with them so he knows how hot they are, but is that always a good idea? We recently bought some Jamaican Hot Peppers, aka scotch bonnet peppers, which are similar in strength to habaneros. Some people say the jamaican ones are fruitier than the habanero but I can’t tell much of a difference, they’re both dangerously hot to me. Anyway, my wife used half of one of these in a vietnamese noodle dish she made the other night and turned out very deliciously, and I used the other half to add a little (and use the word little by way of understatement) piquancy to an onion gravy I made to accompany some veal sausages and gorgonzola polenta I made the other day. I did not taste the pepper beforehand to judge its power and so found out when we were eating that its flavor was a serious component of the dish. That said, the heat wasn’t over-powering and searing, it was quite subtle and gave the gravy a very enjoyably warm after-taste.
So, now that we know these peppers are of the militant variety, and that they should be used sparingly, what do we do with the other 12 peppers in the package before they go mouldy? Your suggestions are welcome but I’ll need them soon!
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