some like it hot

I love spicy food. Especially in the summer time. Spicy ingredients used in cuisines around the world tantalize our taste buds and actually provide health benefits. It may sound counterintuitive but eating spicy food on a hot day can actually lower your body temperature and keep you feeling cooler!

A friend and I had hiked the trails of a local park on a sweltering summer day. We decided to reward ourselves with a good dinner. As we pulled into the parking lot, I eagerly anticipated the spicy delights awaiting us at the Indian restaurant. The entire meal was a feast for our senses. We enjoyed delicious mouthfuls of food that made her eyes tear and my nose run. We were sniffling and smiling and enjoying flavors that danced on our tongues.

This was the perfect repast after a long hot summer day of hiking. When you eat spicy foods, your body generates heat. The body’s natural response is to sweat, which lowers the overall body temperature.

Why is spicy food so popular?
Spicy food is enjoyed around the world. From the jalapeño, serrano and chili peppers of Mexico to Hungarian paprika and the scorching Scotch bonnet peppers of the Caribbean, people have been eating hot and spicy foods for centuries.

Westchester County has a bounty of restaurants featuring spicy global cuisines. Ingredients to prepare Indian, Mexican, Korean, Thai, Cajun, Jamaican, Malaysian, and Szechuan dishes can be purchased in most food markets, as well.

Hot and spicy ingredients have many health benefits. Capsaicin, the active component in cayenne and habanero peppers, produces serotonin in the brain to help regulate mood and reduce depression. Hot peppers (fresh, sautéed or dried) can help lower blood pressure, especially when used in lieu of salt to flavor food. Spices including cayenne, cumin, turmeric, garlic and ginger can increase metabolism, reduce inflammation, improve circulation and help clear sinus congestion. Eating spicy foods can also help curb sugar cravings.
Capsaicin is the chemical compound in chili peppers that causes eyes to tear, lips to burn and noses to run. Most chefs recommend wearing plastic gloves when slicing and removing the seeds from hot chili peppers to prevent skin and eye irritation. Eating hot peppers adds vitamins A and C to our diet. Capsaicin may also help reduce joint and muscle pain.

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Americans have incorporated condiments like salsa, fiery hot pepper sauces, wasabi, and spicy mustard into breakfast, lunch and dinner favorites enjoyed by foodies and regular folks every day of the week. You can celebrate that every August 19 on National Hot and Spicy Food Day.

Now that’s HOT!
The heat of spicy peppers is rated on the Scoville scale. For example, Scotch bonnet peppers native to the Caribbean and Central America rate 80,000 to 400,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units). The Ghost Pepper, a hybrid chili pepper cultivated in India rates over 1.4 million SHU. The world’s current hottest pepper is the aptly named Carolina Reaper which tops the list at more than 2 million SHU!

The best way to cool your mouth after eating spicy foods is with dairy. Try a refreshing Indian yogurt drink or pair your spicy chicken wings with blue cheese-filled celery sticks or savor a square of milk chocolate at the end of the meal.

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