If you’ve never acquired a taste for spicy things, and frankly don’t understand why people wax poetic about an ingredient which burns the roof of the mouth, makes the eyes water and the nose hairs stand on end… you obviously don’t understand CHILIES.
Chilies themselves are almost older than Methuselah. Dating back 6000 years, and are the second oldest spice used by man. (Salt is the oldest.) And although there are several theories about how they spread through the world, it is generally thought that the Spaniards, who occupied Mexico and controlled commerce with Asia, were responsible for spreading the chili pepper to their trading partners in the Philippines, and later to India, China and Japan. Like salt, chilies were used as a preservative and became a favorite of sailors and merchant ships who sailed the high seas. Since then, the chili’s reputation as a spice and a tonic for whatever ails you has grown.
The spice has been credited with lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol and warding off strokes and heart attacks, speeding up metabolism, treating colds and fevers, preventing cancer and aiding in pain control. We’re not talking the mild ones. No, we’re only talking about the Hot Ones. For it is the capsicum in chilies- that little ingredient which creates the burn- which have put chilies on the map, and into the history books for centuries and which is responsible for all those healthy attributes.
Reportedly, ounce for ounce capsicum is packed with more vitamin A and C than citrus.In fact, the same capsicum which triggers all those responses like watering eyes and burning mouth also triggers the brain to produce endorphins- natural painkillers- and the effect is something akin to a “runners high.”
The rating system which tells you how hot a particular chili is came from Wilbur Scoville in 1902, who devised a method to dilute, and measure the capsicum in a particular plant. The scale is still used today by chilies growers worldwide with the lowest rating – of zero- being the “ho-hum” green pepper and going up the scale: Jalapenos, popular when stuffed with cheese and deep fried range from 2500-8000. And Serrano’s, those little green chilies used heavily in both Mexican and Asian cooking, packs between 5000 – 23000 Scoville Units. Of course, there is the Habanero Chile with its exceptionally hot rating around 100,000- 300,000 SU. It has been selectively bred to produce even hotter, heavier plants, producing chilies which go by the name of Naga Jolokia, which packs a whopping 1 million Scoville Units.
A few more Chili Facts:
- Ounce for ounce – chilies have more vitamin C than citrus fruit
- Chiles are the second most common spices in the world, following salt
- In Mexico, a soup laden with chilies is a typical hangover cure
- Chiles curb your appetite- especially for fatty foods and sweets
- More than 140 varieties of chilies peppers are grown in Mexico alone, although thousands are grown throughout the world from India, to Bolivia, to Indonesia
- To cool off when eating capsicum spiced foods…Don’t Drink Water.
- Capsaicin (the active ingredient in chili peppers) is an oil and will not mix with water – but instead distributes it to more parts of the mouth. Dairy products-such as milk and yogurt kills the Chile pain.
- Chilies make foods safer- they are known to reduce harmful bacteria on foods
- People who eat chilies are generally healthier…
Here in the Globe-Miami, where we are known for excellent Mexican restaurants and family recipes have been passed down through three and four generation, the use of chili peppers hold court over many other ingredients. And home made salsas are personal.
The Sunrise and Sunset Chile and Herb Garden on Six Shooter Road is the best place to get your chili-fix. Pat and Manuel Romero have been growing their “Salsa Garden” since 1996 when they began with just a few plants and one small greenhouse.
Today they grow over 70 varieties of chili plants, 50-60 varieties of tomatoes and 25+ varieties of sweet peppers and a smattering of herbs.
Pat selects her seeds each winter and places orders for the nearly 3-4000 plants they will grow each season, beginning in January. When the seeds arrive, they are planted inside and carefully tended until they are strong enough to be moved to the outside yards. One of the reasons their plants have such a good track record with customers is that she will toss young plants which look sickly instead of nursing them.
“If they are sick from the beginning they never quite take off,” she says.
Those that remain are healthy, strong plants – ready for new homes come March.
The Sunrise and Sunset Chile and Herb Garden is open from the first or second week in March until the first week in June. Regular hours are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 9am to 5pm, but Pat and Manuel are often at the house and are willing to help you if they are around. Theirs is a small, seasonal business and therefore does not take credit cards.
So bring cash. And be ready to spend a hour or so browsing the gardens.
Writer, photographer. Passionate foodie, lover of good books and storytelling. Lives in Globe. Plays in the historic district. Travels when possible.