Monthly Archives: November 2014

Spice it up for health! Capsaicin – more than just an adrenalin rush!

Ok, so have you ever eaten some REALLY spicy food and then felt that rush of euphoria?  Well, that’s because you’ve just ingested capsaicin, the chemical in hot chiles that release adrenaline and endorphins.

Our chile rubbed chips
Our chile rubbed chips

As a matter of fact, research is showing that capsaicin is good for a host of problems including pain, arthritic pain, inflammation and itching.  Capsaicin can help cardiovasular health, clear congestion and even boost immunity.  Even more encouraging is recent research showing that capsaicin may actually help kill off prostate cancer cells – not cure the cancer, but maybe prevent the cancer.

So just what is this miracle substance and how does it work?  Capsaicin is the substance in chiles that gives the chiles their pungent flavor and aroma.  It produces mild to intense heat in spicy chiles – depending on the ‘Scoville’ scale heat units (heat level) for the chile. To put that in perspective, let’s look at Gringo Jack’s for a start.

Our guajillo chile sauce is our hard working sauce.  Made with guajillo chiles, we say that it is the milder of our red chile sauces.  Guajillo chiles sit around 2,000-5,000 on the Scovile scale.    Our chipotle sauce is our spicier sauce made with chipotle chiles (dried jalapenos).  The chipotle chile sits on the Scoville scale at around 5,000-8,000.

Ok – so now, lets look at the cayenne pepper – 30,000-50,000 on the Scoville scale!  Imagine the difference in heat between the cayenne pepper and a chipotle chile.  But is gets better folks.   The hot chocolate habanero?  400,000 on the Scoville scale.  Really.  400,000.    And if you want to get ridiculous, there is always the Chocolate Bhutlah which ranks at over 1.5 MILLION on the Scoville scale.  Even that chile can’t beat the Carolina Reaper sometimes hitting the 2 million mark.  Ghost peppers?  Often referred to as the hottest pepper in the world and the butt of joke and funny videos – just over 1 million Scovilles.

hot chile

There are thousands of cultivars of chiles.  The hotter the chile, the more capsaicin.  That could explain the ever increasing obsession by some to grow the next hottest chile.

So what is the point?  Besides the funny videos of people eating chiles that make them cry, there are terrific reasons to get to know some of the spicy chiles.  I don’t think we all need to go out and learn to cook with the Carolina Reaper.  But, the higher the capsaicin level, the more the health benefits.  Pure capsaicin measures 16,000,000 on the Scoville scale, so that isn’t happening!

So, how does capsaicin help and what are the health benefits?  First of all, the bad rap that chiles get involves ulcers.  Not only do chiles NOT cause or aggravate stomach ulcers, they can actually help by killing bacteria and also buffering the stomach lining.  Now, what else can it do?

Relieves Pain & Inflammation

When it is topically applied, capsaicin lowers the amount of something called Substance P, the chemical that helps send pain signals to the brain – also associated with the inflammation process.  From osteoarthritis to diabetic neuropathy, capsaicin is the natural way to alleviate pain.  Applied topically, capsaicin can also alleviate itching from psoriasis.

Cardiovascular

Chiles are high in antioxidants which helps kill the free radicals in your body – free radicals being a precursor to atherosclerosis.

Studies are showing that capsaicin can also reduce blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and platelet aggregation, while increasing the body’s ability to dissolve fibrin, a substance integral to the formation of blood clots.

Congestion Relief and Immunity Booster

The heat from the capsaicin also stimulates secretions that help clear nose and lung congestion.  And those beta-carotene vitamin As?  Well, chiles are loaded with them and Vitamin A is the first defense against infectious pathogens.

Reduce or regulate blood sugar?

In the July 2006 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Australian researchers studied the effect of capsaicin on insulin and blood sugar.  It appears that a meal consumed with chiles reduces the body’s insulin requirements.  If chiles are regularly consumed, the amount of insulin needed goes even lower.

“Plus, chili’s beneficial effects on insulin needs get even better as body mass index (BMI, a measure of obesity) increases.  In overweight people, not only do chili-containing meals significantly lower the amount of insulin required to lower blood sugar levels after a meal, but chili-containing meals also result in a lower ratio of C-peptide/ insulin, an indication that the rate at which the liver is clearing insulin has increased.

The amount of C-peptide in the blood also shows how much insulin is being produced by the pancreas. The pancreas produces proinsulin, which splits into insulin and C-peptide when secreted into the bloodstream.  Each molecule of proinsulin breaks into one molecule of C-peptide and one molecule of insulin, so less C-peptide means less insulin has been secreted into the bloodstream.”   – WHFoods

How cool is this?  Capsaicin may help the spread of prostate cancer!

While this is still being studied, it looks as if capsaicin may actually help kill off prostate cancer cells.  In the March 15, 2006 issue of Cancer Research, study shows that capsaicin triggers suicide in both primary types of prostate cancer cell lines, those whose growth is stimulated by male hormones and those not affected by them. In addition, capsaicin lessens the expression of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), inhibits the ability of the most potent form of testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, to activate PSA, and directly inhibits PSA transcription, causing PSA levels to plummet.

Our own garden grown chiles!  Dig-It Gardenworks - you're the best!

Our own garden grown chiles! Dig-It Gardenworks – you’re the best!

So, by now you are probably ready to dive into the amazing world of chiles!  In our next blog posts, Gringo Jack’s will be offering some wonderful and easy recipes all using these amazing wonders.

 

 

The Versatility of Squash – from savory to sweet!

Today is the quintessential fall day in Vermont (of course, after the leaves have fallen).  Gaining an hour this morning was a beautiful thing, but the second we stepped outside, we knew this fall day was heralding winter’s call.  My weather app said 42 degrees and underneath, it showed “feels like 22”.  Seriously?!

Rec trail

If it wasn’t for squash, some of us might be a bit depressed at the start of “stick season”.  But, lucky for us, there is squash!  And I don’t mean squash – that stuff you eat as the side vegetable on your dinner plate.  I mean SQUASH – one of the most versatile of earth’s bounty!  From sweet to savory and everything in between, plentiful fall squash offers a plethora of opportunity for a healthy, fun and “foodie” experience.

Gringo Jack's gourds

Squash is from the plant family called Cucurbitaceae, or sometimes called the gourd family.  There are over a hundred varieties of cucurbitaceae, squash being a part of the cucurbita along with pumpkin and zucchini.  Squash is the fruit of various parts of the cucurbita and falls into two categories:  winter and summer squash.

Winter squash is so named for the times when survival completely depended on foods that could last from fall through december and later.  However, squash is not just for survival anymore.  You can make squash a part of any meal and any dish from salads to desserts.   You can pan sear it or grill it, bake it or even smoke it!

Chef Paul from Crave
Chef Paul from Crave – squash risotto

So, squash risotto to squash soup

Chef Paul from Crave - Squash Soup
Chef Paul from Crave – Squash Soup

How about squash brulee for dessert!

Food Network Squash brulee
Food Network Squash Brulee
Kelsey Nixon's Curried Butternut Squash Ice Cream
Kelsey Nixon’s Curried Butternut Squash Ice Cream

So, below is a list of the various kinds of winter squash and then how to choose and cook your squash:

  • Acorn – no real sweetness, so best combined with other ingredients (like raisins); should not be cured as it reduces storage life; also keep at under 55 degrees
  • Butternut – oh, such sweet flesh!  Definitely cure
  • Spaghetti – looks like pasta, so why not use like pasta; holds up to robust sauces; cure
  • Carnival – sweet & dense
  • Kabocha – sweet; Japanese pumpkin; delicious
  • Hubbard – use the smaller ones for less moisture content; cure
  • Pumpkin – go for the smaller “sugar” pumpkins
  • Buttercup – like butternut sweetness, but denser; cure

What does it mean to “cure” the squash?  Curing removes the excess moisture in the squash.  Hence, the sweetness is more concentrated.  It also allows for less rot and longer storage.  To cure, simply store in a warmer location allowing a lot of air to circulate – usually for about 10-14 days.

Remember the days all houses would have a “root cellar”?  Food could be stored there to last longer.  Gone are the days of the root cellar, but no worries – some squash will stay good for months in a cool room – others up to a few weeks or longer.  You know – that room that never seems to get any heat?   Store them there and you can have meals all winter into spring!

Choose squash that doesn’t have any soft spots.  If a part of the vine is still attached, it will stay fresh longer.

Here are some awesome tips for preparing and cooking squash.

  • Keep squash dry
  • Using a longer kitchen knife, slice a side of the peel of the squash down the side (or on the bottom depending on the squash) so that you can lie it flat on a cutting board.  It is easier to work with now.
  • Peel the squash with a chef’s knife or a great peeler.  It will be a lot easier if you find a carbon steel blade vegetable peeler (anywhere on Amazon or eBay).  I bet Kerry at Vermont Kitchen Supply has these!  Peel a thin layer.
  • When cutting the squash in half, which can be harder than it sounds, try using a mallet with the knife – softly!
  • When scooping the seeds out, why not keep them, spray with olive oil, sprinkle a little sea salt and roast them!
  • Try not to cook squash in water – it will dilute the flavor.  Instead, cook squash on high heat in order to “caramelize” the squash and bring out the sweetness and flavors.

 

To get you started, below is a recipe from Whole Foods for simple, caramelized on the outside and soft on the inside, butternut squash bites.

Ingredients:
  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Method:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Halve the squash lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out and discard seeds.

Peel with a vegetable peeler
Cut into 1-inch cubes. Transfer to a large, rimmed baking sheet. Toss with oil, salt and pepper and spread out in a single layer. Roast, tossing occasionally, until just tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Nutritional Info:
Per Serving:150 calories (30 from fat),  3.5g total fat,  0g saturated fat,  0mg cholesterol, 300mg sodium,  27g carbohydrate (3g dietary fiber, 5g sugar),  3g protein

 

Whole Foods roasted  butternut  squash
Whole Foods roasted butternut squash

Now, go grab a squash and make something fun!