What do people who prefer Mexican food over Italian and action movies over comedies have in common? According to Civic Science, it’s a shared love of spicy food.
Whether you are one of the 67% of people who enjoy hot dishes or not, you’ll be interested to hear that hot spices can be a boon for your health. The benefits of hot spices are many, ranging from metabolism to lifespan gains.
Yet, one of the biggest hurdles to harnessing these advantages is not knowing how to cook with these spices. Today, we are here to help you hone your skills with this guide.
Want to know why you should be eating hot spices and how to get more of them into your life? You have come to the right place. Keep reading for the answers to these questions and more.
What Are Hot Spices?
Hot spices are those containing capsaicin or other active ingredients like AITC oil (allyl-isothiocyanate). Many of them are made from drying and crushing members of the Capsicum annum family of plants.
The capsaicin inside these plants is responsible for the hot and spicy sensation we experience upon eating them. Capsaicin interacts with receptors in the brain that are responsible for “feeling” heat.
When these receptors encounter a hot sensation on the tongue, they communicate that experience to the brain. The brain, in turn, activates a pain response, which explains the burning feeling inside your mouth.
Types of Hot Spices
There are so many hot spice flavors around the world that it can be hard to count them all. We rounded them up and curated a list of the most popular ones for you here:
- Mustard Powder: A member of the Brassica family of plants that features a warmly hot profile when consumed in larger quantities
- Paprika: A sweet and smoky spice produced from drying and crushing bell peppers
- Crushed Red Pepper: A searing spice made from a blend of chilies that looks beautiful when sprinkled over finished dishes
- Jalapeno Powder: A medium spice produced from crushed and dried ripened dark green jalapenos
- Peppercorns: A staple pantry item that packs a punch when used with a heavy hand
- Ginger Root Powder: Another member of the Brassica family that gets hotter the more you use
- Aleppo Pepper: A flaky, mild spice that packs a cumin-like punch in the flavor department
- Cayenne Pepper: A flaming hot spice made from pure cayenne chilies, cousins of sweet bell peppers
Surprised chili powder didn’t make the list? It may be a staple in many a spice cabinet. But despite its popularity, most people don’t know that chili powder is actually a spice blend.
The ingredients added to chili powder depend on the brand, local customs, and other factors. But in general, this blend consists of dried red chilis, cumin, oregano, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and, sometimes, cayenne.
There are plenty of other hot spice blends out there to try. Some favorites include Cajun and Creole seasonings, which feature sizzling cayenne pepper, fiery crushed red pepper, and smoky paprika, among other spices.
Benefits of Hot Spices
When we say benefits, we are talking about more than the ones for your tastebuds. Capsaicin has been widely studied for its beneficial health effects. Research shows this compound impacts pain, metabolism, the heart, and more.
Here are five health benefits of capsaicin that may make you reconsider your dislike of spices that contain it.
Rev Up Your Metabolism
Maintaining a healthy weight has countless impacts on our health and well-being. One secret to keeping off the pounds is to bring on the capsaicin-containing foods, including spices.
Capsaicin and weight regulation are linked. One reason for this effect is its ability to suppress appetite in the short term. However, this effect is not long-lasting since the body grows a tolerance to capsaicin-containing foods.
Another reason capsaicin may support your weight loss goals is its effects on metabolism. In animal studies, capsaicin is able to increase lipid metabolism or the process of burning fat for fuel.
Balance Your Cholesterol Levels
High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease (PAD). These conditions are among the top preventable causes of death in the United States.
The good news is that capsaicin may help reduce cholesterol levels. In animal studies, ingesting capsaicin for one month was enough to significantly reduce cholesterol levels. However, clinical studies have yet to replicate this finding.
Of course, it goes without saying that you should never use capsaicin in place of prescription cholesterol drugs. Always consult your doctor before considering a new treatment, whether natural or not.
Regulate Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is also a risk factor for deadly but preventable conditions like heart disease and stroke. But it can also lead to other complications, such as kidney disease or migraines.
Capsaicin positively affects blood pressure in multiple ways. Firstly, it may help with weight loss. Weight loss is one of the first recommendations doctors make to help manage high blood pressure.
Secondly, capsaicin is a vasorelaxant. In other words, it reduces tension in the blood vessels to promote healthy blood flow. This reduces the risk of complications from high blood pressure.
Feed Your Gut Bacteria
If you have ever fallen victim to the dreaded “spicy butt,” it may be hard to see how hot spices can benefit digestion. Yet, multiple studies in humans and animals have provided evidence that they can, in fact, be healthy for the gut.
Capsaicin has a positive impact on the healthy bacteria that live in our gut microbiota. A balanced gut microbiota improves digestive function, enhances weight loss efforts, and even boosts immune system functioning.
As an added bonus, the gut microbiome is intimately connected to the brain. Some experts believe that an imbalanced microbiota may contribute to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
Draw Out Your Lifespan
Hot spices may be the fountain of youth you have been searching for. At least, that is what a 2015 study carried out by Harvard University in partnership with the China National Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggests.
The study investigated the effects of capsaicin-containing spices on mortality rates in nearly half a million healthy adults. Eating spicy foods a few times a week increased participants’ lifespans by an incredible 14%.
Other studies have replicated these findings. For example, an American survey found that people who regularly consumed fresh chilies or chilies in spices had a 12% lower mortality rate than non-chili-eaters.
Consuming Hot Spices Safely
As we will discuss next, learning how to cook with hot spices can prevent many of the uncomfortable side effects of capsaicin. Still, some people should avoid hot spices altogether to protect their health.
For example, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, stomach ulcers, gallbladder issues, GERD, or anal fissures should consider sitting out. Very spicy foods may worsen your symptoms.
Capsaicin can be beneficial when applied topically. But these benefits do not extend to the eyes. Be careful about rubbing your face and other sensitive areas after handling very hot spices.
Finally, always consume spicy foods in moderation. As with all things, eating too much capsaicin can cause unwanted side effects. These side effects rarely cause serious or lasting health effects.
If you are new to spicy foods, start slowly before increasing the spice level over time. Your heat tolerance will increase, all while you enjoy the amazing benefits of capsaicin.
Cooking With Hot Spices Like a Pro
Learning how to season properly is an entire art form, using hot spices correctly even more so. So, you’d be forgiven if you struggle to get things just right when whipping up a spicy dish.
Here are some pro cooking tips to try next time you want to get creative with hot spices in the kitchen.
Wear Gloves to Avoid Hot Hands
We mentioned that hot spices can burn your eyes and other sensitive areas. When used in large quantities, capsaicin-containing foods and ingredients can also burn your hands, commonly known as hot hands.
Luckily, hot hands are easy to prevent. Wear a pair of latex kitchen gloves when handling these scorchers. This is a good habit to get into anyway if you want to prevent cross-contamination and foodborne illnesses.
Measure Out Your Spices
You may see pros dash spices into a pot without thought, but you are still learning. Take a step back and measure out your spices before adding them. That way, you can prevent a code red in your mouth.
We recommend following the 1/2 Rule, which states that you should use around 1/2 a teaspoon of any given spice for a dish serving four to six people. Note that this recommendation is for dried, powdered spices.
If you are using dried whole or chopped peppers, you can increase the amount to 1 and 1/2 teaspoons per four to six people. You can always add more later, but it is harder to make something less spicy.
Always Taste Before Serving
Here’s another excellent cooking habit to get into – taste as you go. Each time you add a new spice to a dish, ensure you give the cooking food a little taste. Wait before adding more because the heat may sneak up on you!
It isn’t the end of the world if you forget to taste as you go. At the end of the day, the most crucial time to taste your dish is right before you serve it. That way, you can make any tweaks necessary to improve the flavor.
If you are really nervous about cooking with hot spices, consider giving each spice a small sampling. You can save yourself a lot of headaches by starting with milder spices you can handle before working your way up.
Learn How to Minimize the Heat
So, what happens if your dish is too spicy, but you need to serve it up ASAP? You can minimize the heat with acids, sweet ingredients, or cream-based products. Adding more oil can also dilute the capsaicin in your dish.
Try lemon or lime juice or vinegar in soups and sauces. Acidic vegetables like tomatoes and creamy ones like avocados can help with entrees and salads. Meanwhile, cream or coconut milk is the perfect remedy for a piquant curry.
Keep Bland Foods on Hand
When disaster strikes during a taste test gone wrong, you may be tempted to reach for water. But any hot food enthusiast knows that this is the wrong move. Instead, go for bland foods and drinks to kill the heat.
Capsaicin is an oil. If you remember from elementary school chemistry, water and oil do not mix. Consuming water-based liquids or foods will not get rid of capsaicin oil and may even spread it around.
Bland foods like crackers and bread or liquids such as milk are the better solution. Keep these items handy around the kitchen when you are cooking with fiery spices – they’re like fire extinguishers for your taste buds.
Add a Dash of Cinnamon
One capsaicin-containing spice we have yet to mention is cinnamon. This sweet-flavored ingredient has a subtle bite that many people use to enhance the flavors of other capsaicin spices in dishes like Texas-style chili or curry.
That may not sound like a flavor profile you’d like. Still, we recommend adding a tiny dash of cinnamon next time you cook with chili powder, paprika, or another hot spice.
Have we still not convinced you? Then maybe this will: cinnamon may enhance other capsaicin-containing spices’ health benefits. How’s that for a one-two punch?
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Hot spices may be the solution you need to manage your weight, improve your cardiovascular health, and even live longer. To harness these advantages, use our guide to learn how to use fiery spices in your kitchen.
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