One of my favorite topics is the history of food, how food items went from one place to another, and became so entrenched, we think they are native. Potatoes are one example - a Peruvian food that became so entrenched in Europe after the Columbian exchange (transfers of innumerable species around the globe after Columbus) that we think of Potatoes as Irish, and German, and Russian.
Peppers / chilis are another favorite for me. They, too, are a new world food mainly from Mexico, Central and South America. Again, with the Columbian exchange, peppers became so entrenched in various cultures, it's hard to think of Hungarian food without paprika, Thai food without Thai peppers, Indian food without hot peppers, New Orleans food without Tabasco.
From Archeology.about.com, about the origins of chili peppers. Domesticated in Northern Central America or Mexico 6,000 years ago.
Why did chilis evolve heat (capsaicin)? The speculation is that the hot taste prevented animals from eating the fruits (chili peppers), which would prevent them from reproducing. Pepper plants are small and within reach of plant-eating animals. On the other hand, birds are not sensitive to capsaicin, so when they eat the fruits, the seeds pass through the gut and are spread with defecation wherever the birds fly.
If capsaicin repels mammals, why do humans like it? I think we are a strange species in general. Again, the speculation is that capsaicin also leads to generation of endorphins, leading to a sensation of well being. Others speculate that eating chilis is a form of risk-taking or sensation seeking.
If that's so, it suggests I am a sensation-seeking, risk-taking kind of guy, because I love chilis. I can't eat super hot ones, but I love Tabasco sauce, hot Thai food, hot Indian food, hot Salsa, and chilis in stir fry and dishes with eggs or potatoes.
(Image source: me)
Chilies. One of my all time favorite ingredients. I use them in everything from soups, stews, casseroles, eggs, to powdered cayenne on pizza. I've recently replaced bell peppers with poblanos and anaheims in making salad. One of things I have on hand, which I make and can in the summer, is hot pepper jelly. Habañeros and jalapeños (and whatever other fresh garden varieties I can get my hands on) made into a jelly. A cracker with a a little cream cheese topped with some hot pepper jelly, and a cold beer on a warm summer's evening. Ahhhhhh!
Pat I haven't made hot pepper jelly, mainly because I have never made jelly period. The combination of hot and sweet sounds delicious.
One thing I love about summer is growing peppers. Each year I grow cayennes, Thai peppers, hot banana peppers, sweet banana peppers. This year I'm adding Tabasco peppers and some other sweets as well. Also "fish pepper", a heritage African American variety that was used in fish sauces in Baltimore, and thought to have been brought to the US by slaves, along with some other foods. It's variegated and supposed to be a beautiful plant as well.
I don't think I can handle Habañeros - too hot for me. I get hiccups if it's too hot. I could see looking for some with a little less heat - from what I read they have a fruitty flavor.
I always add cayenne to tomato based casseroles even if the recipe doesn't call for it. I love Tabasco on eggs. When I enlisted in the army, I went to boot camp at Ft. Polk Louisiana. The mess seargant was Cajun. My bland midwestern palate was replaced by a taste for much spicier flavors.
I use the habañeros sparingly. They are some wicked little rascals. Have a friend that grew a a large crop of jalapeños this last summer. I froze at least 7 or 8 full plastic grocery bags. Seeded and cored them, sealed them in a food saver vacuum bag, and into the freezer. They're great.
Ft. Puke! I heard about that place, but never had the pleasure of being there. In the late 60's and early 70's it was nicknamed 'Little Vietnam.' I went to Ft. Lewis in WA for basic, then Ft. Sill in OK for AIT. After that, the rest of my tour was overseas.
I was at the end of the "Little Vietnam" period. Saigon fell a few months after I enlisted. Since I was still in AIT - by then at Ft. Sam in San Antonio - I always said that wasn't my fault :-)
When I enlisted I was 5'11 and weighed 165#. The physical training and food put me up to 185# by the end of boot camp. Even though the food was good we had 5min to eat meals. That, and there was an endless supply of bread and Tabasco sauce. So a lot of the bulk came from that.
Boot camp wasn't bad for me. It opened a world of opportunity and exposures. Racially, ethnically, socially, culinary, physical, it started an adventure. A tough start, but even that gave me a lot of pride and made me know, I can do it.
Following that by San Antonio entrenched me as a lover of hot sauce and peppers.
There are so many culinary traditions. I keep thinking I should focus on one. But I love Mexican, Mandarin, Szechuan, Italian, Thai, Ethiopian, - way hot! - Indian, Middle Eastern, and my own American Comfort....
Why focus on just one? You know the old saying (which I've twisted, but it's true either way)
"Spice is the variety of life!" So, GO for it!
I like hot & sweet flavors, myself. But not all the time. I also like good fresh food that just tastes like itself (maybe with a little butter).
Tomatoes are also a New World species. Can you imagine Italian dishes without tomato sauce? (Or pasta, that Marco Polo was supposed to have brought back from China?)
Yeah, I love information like this!
That's true. Tomatoes and potatoes both took time for Europeans to embrace, but when they did, it was in a big way. Where would we be without them?
When I had back surgery in '09, the therapists kept saying, "Remember now, when you get home, NO Bending, Lifting, or Twisting for at least six weeks. NO B-L-T!" So the first thing I did when I did get home was go to a local on-line deli that delivers and ordered a BLT with avocado...(another New World delight)...on a croissant! It was here in 30 minutes. Die-VOON! ;> )
The hospital food was dreadful...they don't have an in-house diet kitchen anymore. (They still have a fancy cafeteria for the staff.) All the patients' meals are assembled and cooked off-site, probably by the companies that used to make those plastic airline meals before airlines stopped feeding people in Tourist Class. I could see the trucks arriving from my room....
What a pity; when my parents were in and out of the same hospital in the 1980s, the food was not only edible, it was GREAT!
(I didn't realize that I could have had anything I wanted from Store2Door delivered to my hospital room! DUH! They told me they make a lot of deliveries to patients there...every day.)
From The Guardian, "Why do people love hot peppers?" -
While most scientists still do not quite have a handle on the human preference for spicy foods, the best explanation comes from a mechanism called "hedonic reversal", or "benign masochism". Something happens, in millions of humans each year, which changes a negative evaluation into a positive evaluation, like flipping a light switch.... Rozin writes: "If the oral receptors are sending the same message to the brain in the chilli liker and the chilli hater, then the chilli liker must have come to like the very same sensation that the chilli hater, the infant, and nonhuman animals find aversive. One gets to like the burn."
Scoville scale from wikipedia
|Scoville heat units||Examples|
|1,500,000–2,000,000||Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Carolina Reaper|
|855,000–1,463,700||Naga Viper pepper, Infinity Chilli, Bhut Jolokia chili pepper (Ghost pepper),  Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper, Bedfordshire Super Naga, 7-Pot Chili|
|350,000–580,000||Red Savina habanero|
|100,000–350,000||Habanero chili, Scotch bonnet pepper, Datil pepper, Rocoto, Piri Piri Ndungu, Madame Jeanette, Peruvian White Habanero, Jamaican hot pepper, Guyana Wiri Wiri, Fatalii |
|50,000–100,000||Byadgi chilli, Bird's eye chili, Malagueta pepper, Chiltepin pepper, Piri piri (African bird's eye), Pequin pepper, Siling Labuyo (native chili cultivar from the Philippines)|
|30,000–50,000||Guntur chilli, Cayenne pepper, Ají pepper, Tabasco pepper, Cumari pepper (Capsicum Chinese)|
|10,000–23,000||Serrano pepper, Peter pepper, Aleppo pepper|
|3,500–8,000||Espelette pepper, Jalapeño pepper, Chipotle, Smoked Jalapeño, Guajillo pepper, New Mexican peppers, Hungarian wax pepper, Tabasco sauce, Fresno pepper 2,500-10,000|
|1,000–2,500||Anaheim pepper (cultivar of New Mexican peppers), Poblano pepper, Rocotillo pepper, Peppadew, Sriracha sauce, Gochujang|
|100–900||Pimento, Peperoncini, Banana pepper, Cubanelle|
|No significant heat||Bell pepper, Aji dulce|
My own tastes seem pretty mild on this scale. 30,000 to 50,000.
Sriracha: How a Vietnamese refugee made a hot-sauce fortune. MNN.com
I love this stuff. I add it to soy sauce and sesame oil for Chinese dumplings. I add it to Pizza. And french fries. It's a conundru - Sriracha? or Tabasco? Or Cholula?
Tran fled with his family to the United States when North Vietnam’s communists took power...unemployed and unable to find a hot sauce he liked, decided to start making his own, as he had done back home. He started by mixing it in buckets, hand-bottling it, and driving it to customers in a van. He named his company after the Huy Fong, the Taiwanese freighter that brought him to America... his (loose) interpretation of a traditional chili sauce originating in Sriracha, a town in Chonburi Province, Thailand.....
Image from wikipedia but I could as well have taken a photo of the bottle in my kitchen
I love Sriracha hot sauce. The photo could be from my fridge also, except the bottle would be half empty. Use it when cooking in the wok, or on Chines takeout that I occasionally order.
I also like Tabasco when using recipes from Paul Prudhomme's cookbook. And, Tabasco actually makes a great sauce specifically for chicken wings. Just add it straight on.
For Mexican dishes, I prefer Cholula or El Yucateco; the latter either the green variety or habañero variety - sparingly.
The stuff they sell in tourist shops like 'Slap Yo Mamma" or 'Butt Napalm' or other such nonsense are usually crap. They're all seem to be nothing more than a mixture of cayenne in varying degrees, vinegar, and garlic powder. Blech!