We all like a little spice in our life. Being bland is all well and good, but when you want to be a little more daring, you can’t ignore the irrepressible power of the chilli pepper. Add heat and your cooking comes alive with colour, flavour and ferocity. It might be painful if you get it wrong, but there’s a reason why cooks all over the world keep coming back to the spice rack over and over again. You’re either hot, or you’re not.
Awesome as heat undoubtedly is, spice has historically been a shady area for the concerned, yet uninformed health-conscious citizen. Convenient though it would be if chillies and hot sauces turned out to be both delicious and nutritious, it’s always seemed unlikely that foods that can cause so much pain are actually doing us any good. Fortunately, pepper heads can breathe a sigh of relief. The results are in, and it’s good news for anyone who orders something other than a chicken korma.
According to many of the world’s top pepper experts, one of the key chemicals that contributes to the heat of chillies and hot sauces contains a number of amazing hidden health benefits. Capsaicin, the infamous compound that gives chillies their firepower, has been found to do everything from boost your metabolism to help kill cancer cells. For everyone who thought their only chance of outrunning the Big C was a diet of blueberries and kale chips, this will no doubt come as a particular relief.
The findings were first publicised in the aftermath of a 2015 study published in the British Medical Journal by associates at the Harvard School of Public Health. The research found an extraordinary correlation between regularly eating spicy food and increased life expectancy, with “those who ate spicy foods three or more times a week had a 14% reduced risk of death, compared to those who didn’t eat much spicy food”, according to “Time” magazine.
What is perhaps most exciting about the research though is that the health impacts are not limited to a particular type of pepper, or a single means of preparation. According to José de Jesús Ornelas-Paz, a professor at the Research Center for Food and Development in Mexico, the key lies in capsaicin’s interaction with the other chemicals found in chillies. According to Paz, “Blending, cutting and cooking improve the release of [these compounds] from pepper tissue, increasing the amount available for absorption,” making hot sauces some of the healthiest condiments on earth!
The evidence also suggests that the spicier the sauce, the healthier it will be. David Popovich, a senior lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand and another Time interviewee, suggests that “The bottom line is that any kind of vegetable material you consume will improve your health, but hot peppers are really beneficial for you, if you can take the spice.” For anyone who has ever wondered why people apparently waste their time stuffing their face with Carolina Reapers, the answer is now clear. It might be painful, but hot peppers pack a whole lotta health.