Wednesday, November 18, 2009
So, I'll admit it. I like to post about things people don't already know about. I mean, I could write about apples and bananas on here, but I'd say damn near everyone in the universe already knows that apples and bananas have health benefits, and I doubt there's anything I can write about either one of those that will make people be like, "oh, yeah, I SHOULD go eat an apple!" And so when I started thinking about if I should post about habaneros, I felt the twinge of, "dude, they already know, move on to sweet potatoes already". And then I bought some, for some soup (believe it or don't), and a friend asked me what they were, and I realized that maybe some people weren't already on the habanero train, and I should write about these little dudes, and help spice up everyone's lives.
I got into spicy foods when I was 19 or so, and vegan. I had said something to a friend about how it seemed bad that all of the vegans I knew put so much salt on everything, because everything was so bland. None of us were great cooks or anything, so most vegan meals where starchy and unexciting, and the fact that we were poor made it so that most of those meals also weren't made from the best or freshest ingredients. All of us had grown up eating lots of amazing Mexican food, so we knew to put hot sauce in our beans and rice burritos, but it wasn't until this conversation with him that I realized that hot sauce, and spicy foods, could go a long way in both keeping healthy with a less than nutritious diet, as well as take some of the pressure off of salt to keep everything tasting good. And the biggest selling point for me, was the magic of the endorphins. From there on out, I was putting chili sauce in my stir fry, and peppers in my pasta, and sauteeing peppers, and adding them to soups. It's been an amazing love affair.
And years later, I met a guy who put habaneros in maple syrup for breakfast. What a nut job! Right guys? Actually, he totally was on to something. But before I jump into the "how do I eat this?" part, how about I run down the "why do I eat this it really burns a lot seriously man what the hell" part first.
i.) Let's get HIGH! So, one of the things that really made me think I was onto something with spicy foods, was that feeling of happiness that I'd have afterward. Before I knew any better, I thought it was just the satisfaction of a good meal, and I'm sure that was a part of it. But really, it was that I had totally just tricked my body into releasing endorphins, which made me feel wonderful. The way it works is that your body associates capsaicin (the spicy part of peppers) with pain. This is because cells in your body react to capsaicin the same way they do to fire. No joke. So, your body thinks it's on fire, literally, and floods your system with endorphins, so that you can feel some pain relief from the seeming fire. Since, of course, there is no fire, you just get to kick back and enjoy the endorphin wave going over you.
ii.) HEART ATTACK! Years ago, I heard from an EMT friend that the first thing to do if someone was having a heart attack was to get them to eat some habaneros. Well, he may have said the first thing was 911, the second thing was habaneros, but still. Habanero or Cayenne tea have histories of halting heart attacks or strokes due to blood clots, and there's claims you can even place capsaicin under the tongue, assuming you have some pure capsaicin sitting aroung. The science seems to support it as well, capsaicin cleans out the clogs in your vessels by reducing platelet aggregation, increasing cardiac performance, lowering blood pressure, flushing harmful toxins from your blood, increases circulation, lowering triglycerides as well as improving the ratio of good to bad cholesterol. So good heart health all around.
iii.) Vitamins! Antioxidents! Yes, vitamins got third on this list, maybe just because feeling good and not having a heart attack are potentially more important to me. Higher in vitamin C than citrus (as much as 300% more!), these guys are also jam packed with A, E, B9, and potassium.
iv.) Clean out your sinuses! If you've ever eaten spicy food, you probably could have figured out this one on your own, these guys are great for opening up clogged sinuses. Great for being stuffed up with a cold, not so great for being on a date.
v.) Diabetes! There's two studies, that are probably related, but there hasn't been that next study to connect them. One says that capsaicin helps the insulin producing cells in your body create insulin again and even makes new insulin producing cells, and one says that the amount of insulin needed to lower blood sugar after a meal is less if that meal contains capsaicin. Either way you look at it, pepper's are good.
vi.) Pain relief! One could deduce that the release of more endorphins is why peppers are good for pain relief, and that might be the lot of it, but there is more research into the effects of capsaicin and how it's possible pain blocking skills can be used to help in the future. Plus, studies have shown that capsaicin can be used topically for joint pain!
vii.) Digestion! Habaneros help to get things out. If you know what I mean. Good for life, again, not great for a date. From increasing gastric secretions to loosening clogged bowels, peppers help everything work a little better.
viii.) Kill food bacteria! Researchers did a test against the 30 most common food bacterias, and chilies killed 75% of them. I wouldn't feel super safe without a study that says it kills 100% of them, but it's a nice bonus, and good to keep in mind if you're traveling or eating out of a garbage can or something. 75% less to worry about!
ix.) CANCER! So, I almost didn't include it. You guys are already preventing cancer with everything else you're eating, right? But this is different. Dudes. Capsaicin fights PROSTATE CANCER! Alright! That's wicked rad, right? Research has shown that in cell studies, prostate cancer tumors treated with capsaicin are 80% smaller! 80% less cancer! Yay! Also, there's early research in Japan and China that show that it might have anti-lukemic principles. I mean, I'm already fighting my junk cancer, I might as well also fight my bone cancer, plus there's a study that shows it could fight against lung cancer. BUT, not so fast, because there's a small chance that large quantities of chilis COULD be related to stomach cancer.Three beats one, I'm sticking with peppers.
WHAT TO DO WITH HABANEROS:
There's a lot of options here. Salsa's a great one, either make your own, or buy some fresh salsa, and the sky's the limit. I'm sure that people have just as many ways to make salsa as there are stars in the sky, and so I refuse to get into such a debate. People get really serious about salsas! Maybe I'll try to convince Alicia/Double J to come up with a recipe worth publishing, but I'll clue you in now and just say that mine has to do with a food processor, onions, and other fresh veggies. Not too exotic, but I love it.
Soups, obviously, are a highly recommended use. I generally just get one whole habanero, cut it into small pieces, and chuck it into a soup like that. If you're making enough soup for two people, one lil habanero will probably be enough for both of you to have some wonderfully spicy times, it doesn't take a lot to power a soup. I also really like the idea of using habaneros with mac-n-cheese, not only because you can dull the burn with the dairy, but because I think spicy mac is delicious.
One thing I've always wanted to do, and let me know if you've tried it, is make chile relleno with habaneros. I think it would be amazing. And I plan on trying it whenever I get around to it, probably within the next month. A friend recommended I try asadero cheese with it, I'll let you know how it goes.
And then there's the crazy people. I've had it. It's intense. Not honestly sure how I feel about it. But there's a serious fan base out there. And I support you. Habanero and maple syrup. I'm sure that if you've had the two, you could imagine the taste together. I honestly have mixed feelings, but if you like spicy and sweet, I say you give it a try. I found a company that makes it, I've only had the homemade version, but if you've had this or something like it, feel free to let me know: http://www.moosewoodhollow.com/sweet_heat.html
Like all good things, people have found a way to put it in a pill and charge you extra for it. So if you want the benefits, and don't want the heat, check out your supplement section.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS STUFF:
People with Acid Reflux should avoid capsaicin. It has a tendency to make things worse. Also, people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome should avoid capsaicin. Otherwise, as best as I can tell, you should go for it. As always, check with doctors, etc.
REALLY IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT COOKING WITH THIS STUFF:
It's recommended that you use gloves if you cook with habaneros, especially if they're fresh and you're dicing the hell out of them. The reason is that the oil's get on your skin, which COULD make you have skin irritation, if you have sensitive skin. Potentially worse than that, the oils are a HUGE pain in the ass to get all the way off, which means you can later rub your eyes, and now you're burning and it hurts. Which is what happened to me last night. It was a bummer. So, even after a good 2-3 minute "I really don't wanna burn myself later" hand washing, I still missed a spot, and there we go. Spent another couple of minutes making sure I got under each and every nail and hiding space, and it was fine, but heed my warning: gloves, or REALLY, REALLY good hand washing. Just a good fyi. Cause what's the use of not getting sick if yer damn eye hurts?