Friday, August 1, 2008

The Hot Stuff

Ah ha, Chili Heads... Capsaicin and Casein, you're good friends.

Paradoxically, capsaicin's ability to cause pain makes it useful in alleviating pain. Exposure to capsaicin lowers sensitivity to pain, and it is applied as a counter irritant in the treatment of arthritis and other chronically painful conditions.

The capsaicinoids are unique compared to other spicy substances, such as piperine (black pepper) and gingerol (ginger) in that capsaicin causes a long-lasting selective desensitization to the pain and discomfort, as a result of repeated doses. The result is an increasing ability to tolerate ever hotter foods and permits one to assume the title of "Chile-Head" or "CH" for short.

People that eat lots of spicy capsaicin-rich foods build up a tolerance to it. The incentive: Once a person has become somewhat desensitized to the extreme heat of the "hotter" Chiles, he or she can starts on a new culinary journey. Not being over powered by the heat factor, the palate now has the ability to explore the many diverse flavors offered by the myriad of different Chiles that are currently available from around the world. Also for some Chile-Heads a good jolt of capsaicin excites the nervous system into producing endorphins, which promote a pleasant sense of well-being that can last several hours. The endorphin lift or "high", makes spicy foods mildly addictive and for some, an obsession.

So, if you saw Chocolat, this is why she put chilis in her candies.

And if you see someone take a sip of milk after an especially hot bite, they know this secret too.


This is why drinking water after accepting a dare to eat an extra hot Habanero Chile won't stop the burning. Downing a cold beer is the traditional remedy, but the small percentage of alcohol will not wash away much capsaicin. To get some relief from a chile burn (can't think of a good reason not to "Enjoy the heat"), drink milk or eat ice-cream. Milk contains casein, a lipophilic (fat-loving) substance that surrounds and washes away the fatty capsaicin molecules in much the same way that soap washes away grease.

I saw the waiter bring a wailing 3-yo, who'd bit into a pepper, a plate of ice-cream once in a Vietnamese restaurant we once visited. From a nearby table, I saw his face screw up. I knew he wasn't happy and since he was already pretty noisy, I figured it was coming. The howl. Laughing

On the other hand, I once saw a teenage suck down a wedge of lemon like it was nothing. No cringe, nothing. He'd been doing it since around age two too.

Next time I'll give you my volcano-coffee recipe. It's from Hawaii and I know it's around the ether somewheres here... But Kyoki with a splash of creme du cacao (or plain cocoa) and dash of cayenne is pretty much it.

Seriously, coffee, chocolat, and chilis... food of the Gods. Wink Exclamation

1 comment:

Barbara said...

Well written article.