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Pain, Then Pleasure

Popping peppers can boost longevity

By Jason Santerre

Carolina Reaper. Trinidad Scorpion. Naga Viper. Venomous beasts? No. Varieties of pepper. They’re as hot as they sound. And they can definitely cause harm if not consumed with caution. Remember when salsa was considered exotic?

When did hot sauce become all the rage, what with hot pepper-eating contests, grocery shelves stocked with countless brands, and specialty shops dedicated to heat in a bottle. “People aren’t settling for the industry standard anymore,” says David Rose, the man behind Montreal’s own Smoke Show.

“We char and smoke our Quebec-grown jalapenos with maple wood and then add a touch of maple syrup. It’s a very Canadian hot sauce,” says Mr. Rose who admits Smoke Show is a gateway sauce for many people who want to experiment but don’t want something over the top. “Even my grandma loves it.”

Laurent Gauthier thinks it’s all part of the “pleasure-pain principle.” The barbecue expert has entered culinary competitions across North America and says hot peppers bring a mystique to every recipe. “It’s fear of the unknown, as in, ‘will this be the pepper to finally turn my tongue to ash’? A lot of times it’s just macho guys trying to be tough.”

The tough part of acting tough is the three seconds after biting into a scotch bonnet from Jamaica, say. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. And then bam! Tip of the tongue explodes with searing pinpricks, facial muscles tense, eyes water, and sweat starts to bead on your forehead.

Welcome to a capsaicin episode. Capsaicin is the compound that makes hot peppers hot. The more of it a pepper has, the hotter it tastes. That was pain.

Now comes pleasure: capsaicin signals your brain to release endorphins to combat the pain. And here’s where hot peppers fall into the category of naturopathic remedies. Doctors sometimes prescribe hot peppers to relieve arthritic pain and the inflammation of psoriasis. There’s even capsaicin cream to help relieve a host of ailments from headaches to shingles.

Scientists measure the capsaicin content of peppers using the Scoville Scale. The Carolina Reaper, considered by many experts as the world’s hottest pepper, has a Scoville rating of over two million SHU. By contrast, the jalapeno has a modest Scoville score of around 5,000 SHU.

Scientists measure the capsaicin content of peppers using the Scoville Scale. The Carolina Reaper, considered by many experts as the world’s hottest pepper, has a Scoville rating of over two million SHU. By contrast, the jalapeno has a modest Scoville score of around 5,000 SHU.

If you can take the heat, get into the kitchen and experiment. Our advice is to start with mild peppers (Serrano, Poblano, Chipotle, Anaheim) and work your way up the Scoville scale.

The Scoville scale was invented in 1912 by Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacist. An alcohol-based extract made with any given pepper was diluted until it no longer tasted hot to a group of taste testers. In other words, 5,000 cups of water are needed to dilute one cup of jalapeno in order to no longer taste the heat.

 

Spring 2017, Vol 9 N°2

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