Hot peppers are both wildly abundant this time of year and ferociously good for you in myriad ways. You’ve heard the old saying when you have a cold that you just need to “sweat it out”, or maybe when your sinuses are feeling congested you’ve gone for a spicy meal. It turns out there is truth behind that idea. The heat that can be both incredibly painful if you’re not used to it as well as somewhat addicting as you build tolerance is called capsaicin. Capsaicin is commonly used today to flavor foods and in dietary cleanses but Native Americans have been using it for 9,000 years for many different health reasons including relieving joint and muscle pain, lowering blood sugar, improving circulation, boosting metabolism, fighting colds and sinus infections, and aiding digestion. It is high in beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A by the body for immune function as well as Vitamin C, an antioxidant. There are many home remedies you can make using hot peppers for illnesses. If you have a sore throat, simply mix a dash of cayenne into a glass of lemon water to break up mucous and relieve pain. Of course it’s always important to be careful when handling hot peppers, wearing gloves if the pepper is very hot, never touching your eyes or your face before washing your hands several times. Now is the perfect time to try all those different pepper varieties you’ve never had before, just be sure to slowly work up your tolerance before even looking at a ghost pepper.
The most difficult part of buying hot peppers for me is finding interesting ways to use them. The Pioneer Woman is a blogger who posts about simple living. She wrote an article about roasting green chilies to showcase the amazing flavor that can be drawn from a hot pepper. Roasting a pepper creates a smoky flavor that highlights the spice in a pepper without being overwhelming. In this method you simply line a baking sheet with foil, put the peppers on it, and broil them in the oven. When one side becomes black and charred, flip the peppers over and allow the other side to char as well. This whole process should only take about 15 minutes. Then remove them from the oven and place in a plastic ziploc bag for 20 minutes so they steam further. Finally, pull them out and peel the charred skin off the top. There will still be dark spots on the pepper after this, which is where all the flavor is. Once peeled, you can cut the peppers open and remove the seeds.
I used anaheim peppers, which I did not realize are as spicy as they are, but they roasted beautifully. I decided to make nachos with guacamole, tomatoes, and cheese, which turned out to be the perfect balance for the smoky pepper flavor, and the cheese cut the spice perfectly (I’m a little bit of a spicy food wimp). If you are sensitive to heat I would recommend poblanos, which are slightly spicy, or even just bell peppers or cheese peppers. If you’re feeling adventurous, wander into the wide world of spicy peppers and reap their health benefits and palate pleasing tendencies. Bring on the poppers, hot pepper jams, pickled chilies, meat marinades, salsas, and jalapeño margaritas!