Category Archives: Healthy Foods

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!  

 

 

 

 

How to choose the right oil – Gringo Jack’s Part II on healthy oil

So what oil should we be cooking with?  Even more important than the health factor is the heating temperature of oils.  Known as the smoke point, each oil can take a certain temperature before bad things start to happen.  The smoke point is actually that – the point at which the oil begins to smoke.  The smoke point is when all the nutrients begin to degrade and potentially harmful compounds begin to form.

When an oil makes certain claims such as heart healthy or packed with antioxidants or helps to lower cholesterol, remember that these claims are no longer true once they pass their smoke point.  In fact, not only are the health benefits destroyed, but you could be ingesting carcinogens.   To clarify even further, an oils smoke point is dependent on how refined the oil is.  More refine, higher smoke point.  Less refined, lower smoke point.  Obviously, for cooking we are looking for a higher smoke point.

So, below are several factors we want to look at when choosing an oil:

  • Smoke Point
  • Types and ratios of fat content
  • Refinement
  • Process – chemical or pressed

We’ve created a chart that will give us some of useful information when choosing an oil.

Oil Chart

We can infer much through this chart!  First, you can see that Butter and Flax should not be used for high heat cooking as it has the lowest smoke point (along with the unrefined sunflower and safflower).

Conversely, canola, peanut, palm, corn and most of the refined oils are good to cook with.  However, let’s now look at the rest of the information.

While you can cook with palm oil and coconut oil (as well as butter on low heat), they are also the highest in saturated fats – coconut oil being a whopping 91% saturated fat!    To break it down further, however, both coconut and palm oil are very high in lauric acid (of the saturated fat), hence the coconut oil craze, since lauric acid is also used medicinally.  So, at this point, we certainly would not cut those two oils from our choices.

Now, take palm oil.  High smoke point and high in lauric acid of the saturated fat. However, palm oil also has a 10:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3.  That would probably cut palm oil from our list of choices.  Again, canola oil comes out on top with a 2:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3.

  • Let’s look at deep frying.  Temperatures for deep frying are between 325-400, so we need an oil that has a smoke point over 325.  Looking at our chart, we can infer several things:
  • Walnut oil has to be at least semi-refined, however also has a terrible Omega ratio and is expensive
  • Sunflower oil also has to be semi or fully refined, and also has a terrible Omega ratio.
  • Soybean oil again, has to be semi or fully refined with a lousy Omega ratio.
  • The same goes for sesame, safflower oil and peanut oil.
  • Olive and corn oil has a great smoke point, but a crappy Omega ratio.
  • Turns out, canola oil has a great smoke point, is the lowest in saturated fat and has the best Omega ratio!  Of course, this is assuming you are using expeller pressed, non-gmo canola oil so that you are not destroying the Omega 3s with the heat and chemical extraction and refinement method. Add non-GMO and you have the perfect oil for high heat cooking!

My favorite two oils are expeller-pressed, non-GMO canola oil and extra virgin olive oil.  For low heat cooking, I use the extra virgin olive oil for flavor and the extra nutrients in olive oil.  For any high heat cooking, I always use the good canola oil.

canola-oil-plant-1

I am trying to find ways to incorporate some of the other oils into my diet, but on a limited basis.  I am definitely falling on the coconut oil, all the time craze as I believe the huge saturated fat level should be mitigated with moderation use.

So, there we go.  Gringo Jack’s uses expeller-pressed, non-GMO canola oil for our chips because we did the research and want to make the best possible product we can for you and your family.  I mean, hey a snack is a snack, but snacks made with good ingredients have their place and a rightful place it is – I mean, how dull diets would be without them!

Gringo Jack's Flaky Tortilla Chips
Gringo Jack’s Flaky Tortilla Chips

 

 

 

 

Will the Real Healthy Oil Please Stand? Gringo Jack’s uncovers the truth about oils.

The food world is getting harder to navigate.  Remember the 1960s and 70s when eggs were good for you?  Then they were bad, then good, then bad and now good.  My goodness, why can’t the healthy food community make up its mind?!

minniepearl132

Well, science dictates the changes in healthy eating advice.  The more we know, the more we can get a handle on whats good and what isn’t.  We are learning so much more, so much faster as our scientific knowledge increases exponentially.  The more we learn about decoding dna and the more we learn about genes, the more we can narrow down what is good and what isn’t.

However, that knowledge also lends itself to changing the foodscape.  GMOs are an example of a “little bit of knowledge”.  So, not only do we have to keep up on what foods are healthy and unhealthy, but now we have a much wider variety of foods and food processes to study.

This is where oil comes in.  What oil is healthy?  Can I cook with a certain oil?  The internet is ripe with information for an against certain oils.  For example, there has been a huge campaign against canola oil.  Canola oil originally came from the rapeseed and was very high in erucic acid – a known toxin responsible for anything from heart to lung problems.   In the 1970s, a group of Canadians cross bred a new, benign plant for canola oil.  This new breed was called canola (Canadian oil low acid).

canola

Of course, after this, the scientist at the forefront of this went to Monsanto where a genetically modified canola (still rapeseed, but no longer the toxic rapeseed) was created to withstand Round-Up.  Now, most of the canola oil made and consumed is genetically modified  Remember, the original rapeseed developed by the Canadians was not a GMO – it was naturally crossbred.

To make things worse, as you know, oil has to be extracted from nuts, seeds, grains, fruits and vegetables.  There are several methods for doing this, but most of the canola oil you buy at the grocery store is extracted using the chemical solvent method.  Using a chemical solvent, usually hexane, over 90% of the oil is able to be extracted.  However, this chemical is poisonous.  In fact, just breathing hexane can cause nausea and headaches and attacks the central nervous system. So, the hexane has to come out later.  The hexane is removed with high heat.  However, while this process removes the hexane, it is unclear as to whether there are trace amounts left and whether these trace amounts are unsafe.  High heat could turn whatever amounts are left into an inhalant.  Also, the high heat degrades the oil and changes the flavor (sometimes completely ruining the flavor altogether) as well as the nutritional makeup.  Actually, it is truly gross – you can find videos on the internet that will show you how the extraction is done and you may not want to eat after that!  Actually, here is a link to one of those videos:

So along comes non-gmo, expeller pressed oil.  Utilizing the Canadian cross bred canola, the oil is extracted via the centuries old natural method called expeller pressed.  A purely mechanical method is utilized and presses the seeds or fruits until oil comes out.  This method is definitely not as effective as the chemical solvent and gets only about 60-70% of the oil (as opposed to over 90% from the chemical method).  Hence, expeller pressed is more expensive.

The difference, however is night and day.  Forget the flavor which is hugely different from its chemical induced counterpart.  The method makes the difference between consuming poison to consuming one of the healthiest coils out there.  Add non-GMO to the mix and what you have is now an oil lowest in saturated fat of all oils and has an omega-6 / omega-3 ratio of 2:1!  Also, it has the highest smoke point (ie: canola oil 375 vs safflower or sunflower t 212 degrees),so that it makes it one of the best oils to cook with.  Once oils get heated past their smoke point, you wind up with carcinogens and free radicals – just what you DON’T want in your healthy stir-fry!

Next week, I’ll offer up a chart with all the oils, the advantages and disadvantages of each.  But, before ending here, you should know that Gringo Jack’s uses ONLY non-GMO, expeller pressed canola oil in both our chips AND our restaurant frying!  How many restaurants can tell you that your fries, chicken etc is fried in non-toxic, non-GMO expeller pressed oil?

Gringo Jack's Flaky Tortilla Chips
Gringo Jack’s Flaky Tortilla Chips