Red Hot Chile Peppers
Although the days are noticeably getting longer, winter ain't over yet, and spring (the season for allergies, sinus infections, bronchitis, asthma and spring fever) is right around the corner. From the hottest to the mildest, chiles are the antidote for keeping our bodies healthy, heated and energized into the onset of summer.
Hot on the inside, chile peppers warm our internal temperature. They also have incredible healing properties. Their high content of vitamin C (higher than citrus fruits) is commonly known to aid the immune system, but recent studies show how capsaicin, the compound that gives peppers their fiery flavor, is a major player in the ability to fight cancer.
According to a release from the BBC News, capsaicin directly attacks the mitochondria within the cancer cells, causing cell death without harming the surrounding healthy cells. "As these compounds attack the very heart of the tumour cells, we believe that we have in effect discovered a fundamental 'Achilles heel' for all cancers", states Dr. Timothy Bates, lead researcher for a Nottingham University study.
Although this new development will most likely lead to new drugs that contain this specific cancer-fighting compound, those of us who want to think preventatively by eating a healthy diet of whole foods can start now by adding a daily dose of chiles (the hotter the better!) into our diets.
Can you handle the heat?
There are all kinds of chiles, and each have their own degree of heat. Here is a list of the most common peppers, provided by Whole Foods Market, ranked by their Scoville Units, a measure of the capsaicin content in the pepper which is perceived as heat by the human palate:
Bell peppers (green, red, orange and yellow) have no heat whatsoever nor any chile pepper credentials. They are, though, very high in vitamin C to boost immune health and ward off common ailments.
Anaheim peppers can range from 100 to 1,000 Scoville units. In other words, they're quite mild. Anaheims are long (up to 8 in.), smooth and tapered.
Ancho (dried) or Poblano (green) register between 1,000 and 2,000 on the Scoville scale. What an experienced chili eater would call mildly warm. Anchos are preferred because drying enhances the flavor and they're easier to work with: just reduce them to powder or reconstitute with water and add them to the pot.
Green chiles are a group of several varieties of long, tapered chile peppers that are grown and revered in New Mexico. Their heat can vary widely from variety to variety but most would fall in the 2,000 to 5,000 Scoville Unit range, perfect for the average chile-eater. Fresh green chiles are available in New Mexico and other parts of the Southwest from about mid August to mid September. Canned green chiles are on grocery shelves year round.
Jalapenos are short, tapered, dark green peppers with a Scoville Unit range of about 5,000 to 6,000. Jalapenos are the variety most used to make chipotle peppers. Chipotles, or smoked peppers, are available both dried and in powder form, as well as canned in adobo sauce.
Serrano peppers are short (2 in.), tapered and red with a heat index around 15,000 to 20,000. We're getting into "hot" territory now where only seasoned chile-eaters dwell.
Cayenne peppers are commonly used in powdered form (see below) but may also be used fresh. Long, narrow and red, cayenne peppers are in the 40,000 to 50,000 Scoville range.
Habenero chiles hover in the Scoville stratosphere at about 200,000 or higher. Habeneros are best used in the form of commercially available hot sauces or with other varieties of chiles in commercial powdered mixes. They are not for the faint of heart and should be used with a measure of trepidation.
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