Friday’s food: Hot peppers

Habanero pepper

Habanero are on the zippy end of the capsicum heat scale

As you can imagine, Europeans were very excited about hot peppers when they were first sampled. Just imagine what food, especially meat, must have tasted like without refrigeration. That is why so much of early trade route exploration was for spices. They were that important. Pungent and assertive seasonings could mask the taste of food aged way past its prime.

Although Chris was really after black pepper (Piper nigrum), peppers both sweet and hot (capsicums) eventually opened a whole new world of culinary adventures for Europe and so many other lands. But there is some controversy regarding the origins. Although it is commonly believed that Columbus brought capsicums back to the Old World, some food historians have suggested that hot peppers could have been used by earlier peoples:

“…1995, an archaebotanist published in Svensk Botanisk Tidskrift that the chili peppers existed in Europe before pre-Colombian times. Apparently there was a dig at St Botulf in Lund that found a Capsicum frutescens from the 13th century. He thought that it came from Asia but also claimed that the Greek Theophrastus (370-286 BCE) and the Roman poet Martialis mentioned the chili pepper in their works.”

Whatever the origins, one is hard pressed to find a world cuisine in which some sort of capsicum is not used. Whether the gentle sweet pepper through to the hottest, people love their flavors and versatility.

Red or green, dried or fresh, the hot ones are commonly referred to as a chili (also spelled chile). Using the Scoville Heat Units (SHU) to rate their heat, sweet bell peppers come in at 0 which means they have no fire whereas Scotch Bonnets – 50,000 – 200,00; Habaneros – 100,000 – 300,000 and naga jolokia – 1,000,000 (from India – reputed to be world’s hottest) can make you think twice about the next bite.

The good news is you don’t have to burn off the surface of your tongue to reap nutritional benefits. The capsaicin in even the mildly hot varieties helps to fight inflammation, relieve pain, supports cardiovascular benefits, helps to clear congestion, and supports your efforts to ward off cancers, ulcers, diabetes and aids in your battle with weight loss.
World’s Healthiest Foods

Even though they are good for you, Fort Worth’s chili aficionados begin to salivate  as the end of August draws near – but not for the health benefits capsicums provide. They anticipate the Hatch Chili Festival’s pure enjoyment factor. This year is no exception with Central Market pulling out all the stops to bring two weeks of Hatch chili fun.

Central Market Hatch Chile Pocket Cookbook for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad on the iTunes App Store

“It’s Central Market’s claim to flame – each August, more than eight full truckloads of these beauties are delivered from Hatch, New Mexico, the Chile Capital of the World, as part of a celebration so big it takes two weeks to do it right. This time of year, we take our usual delicious recipes and add Hatch Chiles for an extra kick. Make sure to pick up your favorites, and look for our Hatch Chile cookbook, filled with Hatch-heavy recipes from savvy Central Market cooks – our shoppers! Mild or hot, fresh or roasted, toasted or diced, it is – at last – that Hatch time of year!” Central Market’s 16th annual Hatch Chile Festival. Join them for demonstrations, tastings, recipes and more, plus live music on the patio on Saturday.
Central Market

Click here for some roasting and preparation tips

Click here for a chile preparation video

Cheese stuffed jalapenos

Some more chili recipes

Image info: Wikimedia Commons


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