Yes, I can be fickle when it comes to travel. I offer no excuses, but instead offer 7 Absolutely Hot Chile Facts to Savor along with your meal next time Mexican fare is on the menu.
It’s the old fruit versus vegetable debate, botanists versus chefs, sweet versus savory. Seems a seed-bearing structure that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant is a fruit, whereas vegetables are all other plant parts. Thus, seed outgrowths such as apples, squash, tomatoes, and yes, chile peppers, are considered a fruit. Most of us don’t really need a chef to remind us the savory side of this fruit equates to vegetable status. Let’s call it a frugable!
Red is obviously the HOT stuff, mature chile pods (the green are harvested before maturity to reduce the “heat” of the pepper) often seen tied together (ristras) and hung out to dry (literally), then crushed into powder to return to the table as hot sauce. Gee, that’s a familiar story I’ve witnessed over the years courtesy of a handful of strong women (fictional or otherwise) whom I’ve come to admire. But I digress. Having both red and green in your favorite dish is sometimes referred to as Christmas style.
Some scientists believe that Onate brought chile peppers to New Mexico during his expedition of the Camino Real; others believe the chile arrived in New Mexico through trade between the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest and the Toltec Indians of Mexico.
Either way, when horticulturist Dr. Fabian Garcia came into the picture in 1907, the goal was to cultivate a smoother, meatier, tastier, and milder pepper that would resist the wilting disease that plagued the unrefined breeds of the last 400 years. Ten years of trial and error produced the prized Rio Grande pepper, named for the river that supplied its irrigation. One hundred-plus years later, the University of New Mexico’s Chile Pepper Institute has picked up where Dr. Garcia left off.
Capsaicin, the chemical in chile that puts the hoot in your holler, is actually good for you. Aside from boosting your metabolism (the capsaicin is a vasodilator, meaning it causes blood vessels to dialate), raising endorphin levels, improving mood, and reducing insulin levels, capsaicin is being researched for its preventive effects on cancer. It’s already used as a topical analgesic agent for arthritis, shingles, nerve damage, and even migraines. Botanists are still testing the theory that capsaicin in chile plants may be an adaptation to fight fungus, the single biggest threat to chile plants.
Oleoresin, the color extracted from very red chile pepper pods, is used in everything from lipstick to processed meats.