Science of Chile Peppers


Article by Jane Butel, an internationally recognized authority on the regional cooking of the American Southwest.  Credited with starting the Tex-Mex mania, Jane Butel published her first cookbook on New Mexican and American Mexican food in the 1960’s.  Check out her webstie:  Jane Butel Southwest Cooking

Chiles, which are a fruit from the nightshade family, possess unique characteristics.  They are able to produce a substance called capsaicin, a substance that no other plant is capable of producing.

Capsaicin is an oil-born acid that is quantifiable, as we will discuss in the next lesson.  This acid is produced in the placenta, a cotton-like ball of tissue that grows under the stem inside each chile – very similar to bell peppers.  The seeds and veins are attached to it. T here are usually four veins – two main veins and two auxiliary ones extending down the sides, with a few seeds attached to each.


Chile Peppers

Using and Eating Chile Peppers:

So, if one wants to have a less hot dish using green chiles, the top inch of the chile could be discarded, as that has the greatest concentration of capsaicin.  If one is particularly shy about chiles – they may wish to remove all of the seeds and veins to make the chile as mild as possible.  However, it is always a good idea to eat the hottest possible chiles one can enjoy as the more capsaicin that is consumed, the better for one’s health.

Another approach to taming chiles is to marinate them.  In Mexico, it is very popular to soak chiles in lime juice.  For example, many recipes for one of their national dishes, Chiles en Nogada, call for soaking the chiles overnight in lime juice.  You may use another acidic ingredient, such as lemon juice, vinegar, or wine.


What are Endorphins:

The wonderful healthful properties of Capsaicin stem from its ability to stimulate an endorphin reaction.  The proportion of capsaicin present in a chile is in direct proportion to the endorphin reaction or “high” one will get.  This high is triggered by the hotness of the chiles, and is an internal reaction; the more capsaicin one eats in total, the healthier and more stimulated one will be.  Generally, endorphin reactions only come from intense physical activity (i.e. the runner’s high or the high from sexual activity).  The health benefits are totally amazing – not the least of which is that the consumption of chiles assist with weight loss and with maintenance of a healthy weight.

As I detailed in Real Women Eat Chiles, endorphins were discovered in the brain of a pig only thirty years ago, in 1975, by John Hughes and Hans Kosterlitz.  Endorphins are opiod neuropeptides, and they produce a morphine-like reaction in our bodies.  The word comes from endogenous morphine or Greek for cerebrum.  Vertebrates produce endorphins in the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus.  When they are released in the body, they resemble opiates in that they work as natural pain killers.  They regulate one’s mood, relieve pain and hunger, assist memory, reduce aging by removing superoxides, and are even connected to the production of sex hormones.

In sum, endorphins are natural morphine receptors.  The receptors are anti-stress hormones that relieve pain naturally.  The more technical definition is that endorphins are small chains of peptides that actuate opiate receptors, producing a feeling of well-being.  Twenty different types of endorphins have been discovered in the nervous system.  There are four main types of endorphins:  alpha, beta, gamma, and sigma.  The most effective endorphin is the beta-endorphin, which gives the more euphoric effect to the brain; it is composed of thirty-one amino acids.”

The only other food substance known to produce an endorphin reaction is chocolate.  However, its ability to produce an endorphin reaction is not nearly as great as that of Capsaicin.  The combination of chocolate and chile is truly a stimulating one and was discovered long ago by the Aztecs.

The other physical activities producing endorphins are yoga, laughter, exercise and acupuncture.

From Real Women Eat Chiles,  “The overall benefit of endorphin production is its reduction of the ravaging effects of stress, pain, suppression of hunger, increased memory, and a sense of well-being.” Specifically, getting a “runner’s high” or a “second wind” or the blissful feelings one gets after sex are related to increased endorphin production.  Since eating chiles is one of the consumable ways of producing endorphin reactions, why not find your very own way to unfold this pleasure source?  With the healthful properties of chiles, the main challenge to the uninitiated is just discovering the tastes and recipes that are pleasurable and the levels that are most pleasing.

The way chiles work in the body is that they stimulate the use of oxygen, especially when paired with exercise.  It is always best to exercise early in the day as that gets the body off to an efficient start so it burns more oxygen and operates more efficiently all day long, which also creates a heightened sense of well-being.

A side benefit of eating chiles is that they produce a craving.  This means that the more chiles you eat, the more you will wish to eat.  So get ready, you will find yourself actually reaching for the hot sauce if there is nothing else to spice up your food. As an experiment, purchase a green chile, any type, and cut it open to study the placenta, veins and seed location.


Health Benefits of Chile Peppers:

Chiles, when consumed are extremely healthy – possibly possessing the most curative powers of any food.

Internally, they help the entire vascular system by acting similar to Drano, auguring out plaque, which helps the heart to not have to work so hard, thus slowing down the incidence of heart disease.  They speed the pulse and reduce blood pressure, thereby helping people with hypertension or high blood pressure.

They speed gut action, stimulating the development of mucous in the digestive tract – thereby aiding digestion.  They even cauterize ulcers. Chiles, when combined with oregano and cumin, are known to help inactive kidneys.   Also, they are known to help alleviate kidney stone pain and increase the stimulation of the lymph glands.

Chiles help to cleanse the skin by stimulating perspiration and triggering a clearer complexion.  The lymph gland stimulation has a byproduct in also working to create more beautiful skin.  Chiles can also help with mouth sores and itchy skin.

Capsaicin works to kill bacteria when consumed within food, such as in raw oysters.  Research has found that when cayenne or other types of chile is consumed with noxious bacteria in oysters, all of the bacteria are then killed.

Capsaicin is known to prevent cancer development in animals and cause cancer cell death in cultured tumor cells.  Actually, what happens is the capsaicin works to starve the cancer cells of oxygen, thereby killing them.

Another helpful use is that the chiles help alleviate diabetic neuropahy or nerve pain. Topically applied, capsaicin inhibits substance P, an amino acid peptide associated with pain.  Another plus is that capsaicin has the effect of lowering blood sugar.

Externally applied, capsaicin compounds work to relieve sore muscles and joints.  Also, they reduce inflammation from arthritis.  Actually the capsaicin also works to stop the destruction of cartilage in the joints – reducing the cause of the pain.  What actually happens is that the capsaicin stops the breaking down of fluid in the joints and can even sometimes reverse the joint destruction.

Chiles in sum make our bodies more efficient.  They help our body’s ability to digest fats by decreasing the absorption of cholesterol, and enhancing the liver’s production of enzymes, reducing the storage of triglycerides.


Truly it is not amazing that the ancients liked chiles so much!


Learn more about Chile Peppers – Preparing Fresh Chile Peppers, Roasting Fresh Chile Peppers, and Preparing Dried Chile Peppers



Check out Jane’s recipes:

Aztec Pork Chops

Bowl Of Red – Classic Chili

Chevre Wrap

Chicken Tortilla Chowder

Fruity Nachos

Margarita Pie





Chile Peppers   

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