There is something very special about a spice that needs commitment. Just like a growing relationship the fiery ingredient needs a slow and steady introduction and time to be tested and developed to reach its full potential. Friend or lover, rarely are we sold instantly on a relationship. In fact when we dive in too deep too quickly we tend to overindulge in the thrill of connection and intimacy which inevitably leads to disappointment and a tiresome misunderstanding of each-others expectations. This goes for a favorite song or cd… too much of anything often ends in cold turkey termination. Considering the above, a sweet and addictive ingredient that momentarily thrills, like chocolate, the overindulgence is an obvious dilemma.
But with chili, the slow and steady introduction in mum’s pasta marinara to the gradual leniency of the local Thai chili stir-fry develops into its desire to impress across ethic and gastro menus the world over. Chili and I have proven to develop a relationship that is ever growing, rewarding each other with each new reach of commitment. A psych would say this is what a healthy relationship is all about and so it seems would a nutritionist.
Chili is formally a health food.
According to www.chillisgalore.co.uk, chilis (or chillis) are packed with Vitamin A- an antioxidant that helps build the immune system. The heat and spice found in chili is determined by its levels of Capsaicin which are also understood to temporarily speed up the metabolic rate and essentially burn calories faster. The spice allows extra flow of saliva which means your gastric juices also flow better and aid in more effective digestion.
Chili is the last spice to be introduced to the world at large. The Aztecs and Toltecs in Mexico were understood to be some of the first growers it but there is an idea that the West Indies was the origin of all chili varieties. The nomadic American indians helped diversify the ingredient once America was colonized. Certain central American vegetables, including chili, were spread by people going east, across the pacific.
While those in Africa, Asia and the Arab world took to the chili instantly the Europeans remained wary. Paprika was a little easier to handle for the European soft palate and these days over five hundred tones of sweet peppers are grown in the south of France.
The harsh ferocity of chili has aided the Incas, Aztecs and Mayas in their techniques of torture. Reservoirs have been poisoned with chili which meant fish which die were already spiced before cooking- a large scale, practical approach to flavor.
But now, chili has become an every day necessity for gastronomic cooking and its hard to imagine food in the west without it. Its like French food without butter or Turkish without eggplant, it just wouldn’t be the same. Harissa, masala curry paste, chili con-carne are all widely used ingredients and dishes that have globalised eating today.
The relationship that chili has with the world comes in all sorts of ways; medicinal, dietary, taste and for some, a type of tongue torture. But for modern day cooking its about the limitless opportunities the chili has to offer. Like a good relationship, chili needs to be nurtured, encouraged and challenged to be the best it can be because chili is one of the few ingredients that many resist to overindulge.
Sourced from A History of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat.
Who is the Food Anthropologist?
Sally Ayhan is a freelance writer and presenter based in Sydney.
She is foraging for stories behind the food we eat and the culinary choices we make. Quirky food experiences, eating trends and sustainable food practices are just a few of the things she writes about on this here blog. So, go ahead, have a play and a feel, get comfy and if you're gagging for the first read, subscribe below for the latest updates.
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