Smart Fuel: Hot Peppers

Looking to add a little spice to your life? Then look no further than hot peppers! A favorite food of Hillary Clinton as she moves along the campaign trail (if an article in the New York Times is to be believed!) hot peppers are easy to find, relatively cheap, and can be teamed with just about anything! (And that wasn’t a tacit endorsement in case you were wondering. Just a bit of trivial trivia.)

But what makes this fiery little morsel smart fuel? Well, in addition to being low in calories and seriously high in taste, hot peppers contain a compound called capsaicin that is thought to convey anti-inflammatory properties, relieve the pain associated with headaches and arthritis – which is why it’s a popular ingredient in over the counter analgesics – and may even reduce the risk of certain cancers (although admittedly, this is when capsaicin was injected directly into cells as opposed to eaten). However, it should be noted that in areas of South America, where consumption of capsaicin-laden foods is common, rates of intestinal, stomach, and colon cancer rates are considered far lower than that of the United States. In addition, a study published in a 2006 edition of the journal Cancer Research suggests that hot peppers – and capsaicin in particular – prompts human prostate cancer cell apoptosis (cell death) and may also inhibit prostate cancer cell proliferation. Further proof of their position as a smart fuel? Hot peppers contain several important nutrients, including beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and pack twice the amount of vitamin C, pound for pound, than most citrus fruits!

But lets get to the good stuff: How to pick ‘em and how to eat ‘em!

In the culinary world, hot peppers are classified based on the Scoville heat scale, which was developed in 1912 by Wilbur Scoville in 1912 to rate peppers based on their spiciness. On the mild end are sweet bell peppers, Poblano and Banana/Hungarian peppers. Medium-hot peppers include Jalapeno, Serrano and Cayenne, while hottest-of-the-hot varieties include the Habanera and the Bhut Jolokia chili from India (the current Guinness Book of World Records title-holder for hottest pepper!) As a general rule of thumb, larger, rounder peppers are generally mild and smaller, oblong or elongated peppers are the ones that bring the heat!

Bhut Jolokia – The Hottest of Hot

And now, how to eat them: Slice up a few raw peppers and add them to salads, salsa, egg dishes, or even Bloody Marys or other spicy cocktails for an extra kick. Alternatively, try grilling up a few peppers at your next barbeque or sauté them with onions and tomatoes and serve as a topping for grilled chicken, steak or fish. Try adding a fistful of raw hot peppers to your next vegetable stir fry, to a jerk chicken recipe, or to add a sinus-clearing kick to run-of-the-mill soup dishes. When dried, try sprinkling on top of a snack mix or your favorite mixed nut selection. And, if all else fails? Just make a pot of chili!

scarlatti2004, cartophobic / never mind her Flickr, misterbisson Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

More Reasons to Eat Smart Fuel!

Slashfood: Guiness Names the World’s Hottest Chili Pepper

WebMD: Hot Chili Peppers May Relieve Pain

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5 thoughts on “Smart Fuel: Hot Peppers”

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  1. My grandfather used to have a garden at the house and he would grow fresh peppers. They were some of the best peppers I have ever tasted. It lft me with a healthy appreciation for peppers. I think my favorite kind of pepper is definitely the orange pepper. Something about this particular color makes it taste so very yummy. Anyway I find an excuse to put peppers in as much things as possible, especially my salad!

  2. I LOVE hot peppers! I have always sworn by the health benefits, as well as the taste. Plus, I have to be honest and admit that I enjoy that little bit of natural high you get when you crank up the heat.

    I’m going to try growing some peppers in my garden, as well as tomatoes, onion and cilantro, to try to make my own salsas. But I’ll put hot peppers on just about anything I can!

  3. When I was little, my father would take me into the Central Grocery in New Orleans to buy hot sauces. There was an old man with patchy hair who would offer me some of his “special hot sauce” on a cracker. He claimed the sauce was so hot, it was illegal to own it without a license. Maybe it was concentrated Bhut Jolokia. Or maybe the old man was just a wily curmudgeon.

  4. I buy a large variety at my farmers market.
    I then make a hot pepper relish with it.
    Chop, add some chopped garlic, sea salt, olive oil, vinegar. Now you have ready to go in your fridge, a great tool to cook a variety of dishes.
    i.e; sauteed spinach, stir fry chicken, spicy ground beef, eggs etc etc. The possibilities are endless. FWIW, I’ve heard about the health benefits of peppers since I was little.

  5. There is an insidious dark side to peppers though…they are of the nightshade family and as such tend to promote inflammation in the body. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and…tobacco, are all nightshades. Many people notice fewer joint aches and minor pains when ditching or drastically cutting the nightshades, myself included. Since trashing my shoulder, I can tell when the inflammation is kicking up and it’s invariably after I overdo the nightshades, which can be as little as a bowl of chili.

    Here’s a post I wrote on nightshades if you want a bit more info.

    Scott Kustes