How Hot Is Your Chile Pepper?

Chile PeppersMy name is Russell and I’m an (unapologetic) Chileholic.  Although FLAVORS mix of familiar and exotic dishes covers the flavor spectrum from the mild to the wild, I seldom cook a meal for myself that does not contain some form of chile spicing. I’m addicted to the subtle flavorings of chile, the heat and the ensuing endorphin rush (see the science of heat below). 

So when I heard about a store devoted entirely to hot sauces and chile-based treats, I had to make the pilgrimage to this shrine of fiery foods. Entering HEAT Hot Sauce Shop is a bit like entering an interactive museum with neat shelves of chile bottles from near and far, more than 200 varieties altogether lining the walls.

If You CAN Stand the Heat, Get into this Store

Part of the fun of visiting HEAT is chatting with Becky and Dylan, the highly personable proprietors who mostly staff the store themselves. They offer you samples of the daily featured hot sauces as they knowledgeably discuss heat levels and flavor gradations the way a sommelier might discuss his or her wines. HEAT has a user friendly website that let’s you visit them virtually.

The chile plant is native to the western hemisphere. Archeologists believe it originated in a region encompassing the American Southwest and northern Mexico and there is evidence that it has been a part of the human diet for some 5000 to 7500 years. It was dispersed to the rest of the world by the returning Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors and has made its way into a preponderance of the world’s cuisines.  India is now the world’s largest producer of chile.

The Essence of Chile Spicing

Chile Pepper Temps
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Although chiles are mostly identified with the sensation of heat on one’s palate, the broader culinary reality is that both fresh and dried chiles can impart an extraordinary range of savory flavors to all manner of foods.

My favorite go-to chile at the moment is chipotle in adobo sauce. Chipotle is smoked jalapeno chiles saturated in a piquant tomato paste and vinegar based sauce. Chipotle in adobo can be instantly added to soups, chiles and stews, bean dishes, vegetable based stir fries and sauces for poultry and meats. There are even a wealth of chipotle salad dressing recipes.

While chipotle is moderately hot and this product also has some intensity from the strong flavor of the adobo sauce, you can find your own comfort level with a little experimentation. Start with one or even a of half chopped or macerated chipotle for a meal for one to four diners. I always include a dollop of the delicious sauce along with the chipotles themselves. If you love your catsup on potatoes, burgers and the like, work in a bit of chipotle to your favorite brand for a deeper, more layered, and, of course, spicier flavor.

Cooking with Chile

When I want to cook some simple, heart-healthy deliciousness at home, it often takes the form of tacos filled with lean ground turkey or chicken added to sautéed onions and a clove or two of garlic. If there are some GMO free corn kernels, frozen peas, red pepper, almost any tomato product or leftover potatoes to throw in the sauté, so much the better. The ground poultry cooks fast so I add it after my veggies are partially cooked and I add the chipotle at the same time. A topping of fresh greens, cabbage, cilantro, lime juice and/or avocado add a bright counterpoint of freshness to the savory richness of the taco filling.

One of FLAVORS most popular tapas is our Chipotle-Cheddar stuffed roasted potatoes. This filling also makes a terrific veggie/cracker dip and spread. With the advent of so many excellent Greek yogurts, we often substitute this lighter option for the original sour cream.

The heat of chiles resides mostly in the interior veins and in the seeds. If you want a hotter chile, select those that are speckled or have developed striations (aka stretch marks); for milder chiles choose younger, smooth skinned ones and/or remove the seeds and veins. Want to read more?  Diana Kennedy, Patricia Quintana, Douglas Rodriguez (generally credited with coining the phrase “Nuevo Latino”) and Rick Bayless share the lineage of interpreting Mexican and Latin American foods generally with dozens of other great American and Latino writers and chefs.

Chile Info

Take a look at some aspects of the story of chile, taken from the HEAT website.

Chile peppers are the fruit of plants from the genus Capsicum, members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. Chile peppers get their distinctive heat from a naturally occurring chemical called Capsaicin.When consumed, capsaicinoids (the heat chemical in chile) bind with pain receptors in the mouth and throat that are responsible for sensing heat.

Once activated by the capsaicinoids, these receptors send a message to the brain that the person has consumed something hot. The brain responds to the burning sensation by raising the heart rate, increasing perspiration and release of endorphins.

Health Benefits of Chile

Chile peppers are great for your health and do wonders for your body.  Red peppers, for example, have a higher concentration of vitamin A than carrots. By weight, green chiles have twice the amount of vitamin C than citrus fruits! Orange colored chiles are good sources of leutine and zeaxanthin which help lower the risk of macular degeneration. In addition to vitamins A and C, chiles contain vitamin E, B vitamins such as thiamine, niacin and riboflavin, flavinoids, potassium, iron and magnesium.

There is a common misconception that chile peppers are bad for your heart and stomach. These beliefs are completely false. Chiles actually aid in digestion, blood circulation, and are even great at burning calories! Chiles help your stomach by killing bacteria and by stimulating the cells lining the stomach to secrete protective juices that are essential in preventing ulcers.

Capsaicin, the molecule responsible for the chile peppers heat, can also help prevent blood clots because it aids in thinning the blood and increases blood circulation. Chiles can also speed up your metabolism which in turn burns more calories. Chile peppers also benefit your heart by decreasing cholesterol absorption so more is expelled from your body. They can increase the amount of enzymes in your body that are responsible for fat metabolization in the liver.

The many health benefits of chile peppers truly qualify them as a superfood!

Become a Chileholic

I encourage you to explore your inner chileholic and build a repertoire of your favorite homemade chile dishes. It’s one of the good addictions that you may want to enjoy for your lifetime.  Chiles are flavorful, healthful, colorful, endorphin releasing dynamos. Chile is truly one of earth’s most splendid manifestations.

Author’s Note: FLAVORS applies the standard of sourcing and cooking organically, locally and seasonally to the greatest extent possible. In providing recipes and home cooking information, we encourage these same practices for your own and your family’s health and the health of the planet and world economy.