Life Style

Breaking down the hot pepper

It turns out, there is just so much we really don’t know about hot peppers — those delicious additions to so many meals that we enjoy.

Of course, while some people adore hot peppers, others stay as far away as they can from them. No one is quite sure when we started using them so much in cooking, but one thing is certain: We can’t do without them! Hot peppers are not just used in cooking either. They also show up in medicines, cosmetics, weight loss pills, sauces, even in fast food. Scientifically speaking, one of the hottest peppers in the world is thought to be the ghost pepper, also called naga jolokia and bhut jolokia. In Turkey, there are many people who are mad for hot peppers. What follows is some interesting information about hot peppers, an essential food item of so many of our lives:

Endless benefits

The hot pepper known as the Hatay Samandağı pepper is said by many in Turkey to have weight loss effects. In general, there is a lot of information about the many benefits of hot peppers. Some say that they can eliminate cancerous cells, while others say they are able to prevent heart attacks, speed metabolism and even healthily affect the circulatory system. Hot peppers work as clotting agents when spread over bleeding cuts. Also, hot peppers are used in many medicines as basic ingredients. Hot peppers can help prevent bronchitis and bring down cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Not only this, but hot pepper can protect people against heart attacks and strokes, and even reduce the effects of ageing. Dr. Yasemin Bradley, a nutritionist and diet expert, says: “Hot red pepper helps burn fat. Its capsaicin raises the body’s temperature. In response, sweating increases. The metabolism then speeds up, and this helps the person lose weight. During exercise, the speed at which fat is burned is increased. The hot red pepper prevents the liver from becoming fatty, and is effective against insulin resistance.”

300 days, 15 hours energy storage

According to those who raise hot peppers as a crop, the best hot peppers are those that get 15 hours of sunshine per day, thus storing all that energy. A hot pepper that has gotten around 300 days of sunshine in a year reaches a level of hotness that might make people think twice before even walking next to it! It is said that Mexico was recognized as the true homeland of the hot pepper after the discovery of America; this was information that spread first through Europe, and then across the world. At the same time, though, discoveries in recent years has cast some doubt onto Mexico’s standing as the homeland of hot peppers, with newly discovered peppers being hailed as the “predecessors” of all hot peppers.

In Turkey, a pill made using hot pepper has long been used as a supplement meant to bring about weight loss. The pill, made using hot red peppers from Mexico, is taken along with a special diet, though experts warn that this pill should not be characterized as medicine.

The bhut jolokia is a hot chili pepper whose origins are actually traced back to northeastern India. This variety of pepper actually has many names. In India, people also call it the bih jolokia (poisonous chili) or the raja mircha (king of chili). Indian pepper grower Digonta Saikia notes that because those who taste this pepper “turn into ghosts” according to popular lore, the pepper is also known as the bhut jolokia (ghost chili), perhaps its most popular nickname thus far.

In Urfa, they eat it for breakfast!

When you mention hot food in Turkey, the Southeast is the first region to come to mind. Places like Şanlıurfa, Gaziantep and Hatay are known for having regional cuisines that boast the very hottest of the hot. In these Turkish cities, peppers are used in both their dried and green forms so often that those who love food and love eating need to think twice before tasting what is put before them! In fact, the kind of jelly called isot jelly is much different than most other kinds of jelly you might encounter. Called by some the “sweetest of all the hot,” this jelly is definitely not for everyone. In Urfa, the pepper called the Urfa isot is eaten even at breakfast. Likewise, regional breakfasts also offer up liver that has roasted hot pepper kneaded into it. Also, hot peppers roasted in olive oil are spread onto bread and eaten as an appetizer in Urfa and the surrounding regions.

Only aristocrats could possess them

Peppers — and other spices in general — really only entered Europe following the discoveries of far-away lands by explorers. With the Spice Road underway, ships carrying tons of spices to Europe began to travel from China and India every year. But because the transport of these spices was so relatively expensive, prices were very high. Thus spices really remained the domain of aristocrats and the wealthy. It became fashionable in the very best of homes to invite guests for meals that were made with special spices brought in from the Far East. During one period, spices became more popular and valuable than gold!

Inspiration for music group and restaurant

Of course, hot peppers have inspired many different areas of life over the years. Think of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the famous rock group. Then there is the İzmir restaurant, the Acı Biber Lokantası in Alsancak. People even enter contests to see who can raise the hottest of red peppers; in the US, one man, Ed Currie, got his hot red peppers into the Guinness Book of World Records, registering his peppers as the hottest in the world. Currie’s peppers, measured for their spiciness on the Scoville measuring system, were found to reach 2.2 million units of hotness, replacing the previous Guinness record holder, the “Trinidad Moruga scorpion” pepper. There is even a hot pepper game designed for Android telephones. In the game, characters start coughing and moving around strangely because of the hot peppers they have eaten!

Don’t touch!

Many people whose mouths are burning because of hot peppers they’ve eaten turn to water first for relief. But water offers no relief from a mouth burning because of peppers! This is because of the oil in most peppers. Here is one experience written by someone on the Internet who had a hot pepper encounter that was worthy of note: “After reading about it, I decided to raise my own chili peppers. On the balcony of course. I planted the seeds and waited. After all, we know good peppers take some 300 days to raise. So I took care of them, watered them, helped them grow. In the end, I had two peppers. But one day, a bird I kept at home attacked one of the peppers, intending to eat it. The moment he touched the pepper with his beak though, he dropped the pepper. One day, I noticed the pepper plant was not doing well. Since it was so hot, I transferred it to another pot, carefully using a shovel. As a family, we try to stay far away from the pepper. We’ll see how we do when it’s time to eat it!”

Remzi ASLAN 
Emailremzi@thelondonpost.co.uk

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