Chile Peppers 101

Pico de Gallo (Rooster’s beak in Spanish) gets its name from the shape of the chopped veggies in this salsa fresca. Here is my recipe utilizing Serrano chiles and a brief run down on how chile heat is measured and why they are good for you.

PRINT Pico De Gallo recipe in MS Word

In 1912 a chemists by the name of Wilbur Scoville, working for the Parke-Davis pharmaceutical company, developed a method to measure the heat level of chile peppers. The test is named after him, the “Scoville Organoleptic Test”. It is a subjective dilution-taste procedure. In the original test, Wilbur blended pure ground Chiles with sugar-water and a panel of “testers” then sipped the solution, in increasingly diluted concentrations, until they reached the point that the liquid no longer burned their mouths. A number was then assigned to each chile pepper based on how much it needed to be diluted before they could no longer taste (feel) the heat.

The pungency (or heat factor) of chile peppers is measured in multiples of 100 units. The sweet bell peppers at zero Scoville units to the mighty Naga Jolokia (Ghost Pepper) at over 1,000,000 Scoville units! One part of chile “heat” per 1,000,000 drops of water is rated at only 1.5 Scoville Units. The substance that makes a chile so hot is called Capsaicin (cap-say-ah-sin). Pure Capsaicin rates between 15,000,000 and 16,000,000 Scoville Units! Today a more scientific and accurate method called liquid chromatography is used to determine capsaicin levels. In honor of Dr. Wilbur the unit of measure is still named Scoville.
Scoville Chile Heat Chart
Chile peppers, and particularly the capsaicin they contain, are good for what ails you. Here’s just a short list of some of the health benefits attributed to them:

Weight Loss. Feel the burn and lose the pounds is one theory posited by researchers at the Oxford Polytechnic Institute in England. In an experiment with 12 individuals, each participant ate identical 766-calorie meals. Chile powder and mustard were added to meals on alternate days. Participants burned an average of 45 extra calories on the days that their meals included chile powder. (Added calorie expenditure varied from four to 76 calories.) The theory is that eating hot peppers increases “thermogenesis,” the body’s caloric burn rate.

Keep your heart healthy. Chiles reduce platelet aggregation, which clogs blood vessels which in turn can cause heart disease.

Improve circulation. Because chiles are vasodilators and open up blood vessels, ingesting cayenne pepper improves blood circulation. People with circulation problems or who have suffered frost bite often take capsaicin powder before participating in cold weather sports.

Cancer killer. Capsaicin in chiles may fight cancer by preventing carcinogens from binding to DNA. The theory is that binding to the DNA short-circuits the triggers for lung and other cancers. This does not mean that chiles cure cancer, but eating them may help to reduce your risk of getting certain kinds of cancer.

Bacteria Killer, Part I. Get hurt on a picnic and don’t have any Bactine on you? Head for the hot sauce, instead. Chiles and their capsaicin act as an antiseptic when applied directly to a wound. (No, it does not work against snake bites.)

Bacteria Killer, Part II. Chiles can prevent food borne bacterial disease such as salmonella. Chiles killed more than 75 percent of 30 germs in a study published in the March 1998 issue of the Quarterly Review of Biology.

Pain Management. Capsaicin is believed to affect the pain signals in the skin, blocking pain without blocking other sensations. Find an ointment or cream containing capsaicin and smear it over the body part that’s hurting. Initially the capsaicin may produce a burning sensation, but that should cancel out the pain that you’re feeling.

Cure for the Common Cluster Headache. Just as it short-circuits pain elsewhere, chiles and their capsaicin can provide relief for some kind of headaches, especially cluster headaches.

Digestive Aid and Constipation Cure. Chiles stimulate gastric secretions. Eating chiles increases the circulation in the stomach and intestines so that food is processed and absorbed more efficiently.

Cold Relief. Hot pepper acts as an expectorant. It can break up congestion and reduce mucous in the lungs and nasal passages.

As you can see there are lots of reasons to use chiles in your recipes but my favorite is they taste awesome!

Pico De Gallo

Yield: 4-6 servings

2 lbs fresh ripe tomatoes
2 medium Serrano chiles (more or less depending on your desired level of heat)
1 large red onion
1 medium cucumber
½ bunch of cilantro
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar, sucralose or stevia
2 teaspoons salt

Dice tomatoes, cucumbers and onion ¼ inch diameter, slice chiles very thin and chop so they will be evenly disbursed. Add to bowl with your tomatoes cucumbers and onions. Rinse and coarsely chop cilantro and add to the bowl. Add lime juice, salt and sweetener and mix thoroughly.
c. 2010 Aron David Bradley


One thought on “Chile Peppers 101

  1. Pingback: Chile Peppers Are Good For You! | New Mexico Chile Products

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