You’ll be pleased to learn that I’m not in here whining about the blazing sun and hot temps for a change. Today, I’m thinking about a different heat source. As in:
With literally hundreds of varieties to choose from, peppers provide a tasty and healthy smorgasbord of colorful, flavorful goodness. Plus, they’re beautiful to look at, drying on a rack or on the end of my fork!
The big deal component in peppers is capsaicin, a phytochemical that may act in several healthy ways:
– Cancer fighter
– Pain reliever (pain causer, too, if you get your hands near your eyes when cutting the hotter varieties)
– Inflammation fighter
– Stomach soother (potential stomach erupter, for some folks unaccustomed to them)
– Fat burner/metabolism booster
– Heart protector
Generally speaking, the hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it has. Most of the heat is in the ribs and seeds which is why those bits are usually cleared out in the prep process. But you don’t have to eat the hot varieties to gain health benefits. Even the sweeter peppers have healthy properties. According to WebMD (my doctoral alma mater), red bell peppers provide these benefits:
Red bell peppers are a good source of fiber, folate, vitamin K, and the minerals molybdenum and manganese. And, they’re especially rich in nutrients and phytochemicals such as:
Vitamin A, which may help preserve eyesight, and fend off infections
Vitamin C, which may lower cancer risk and protect against cataracts
Vitamin B6, which is vital for essential chemical reactions throughout the body, including those involving brain and immune function
Lutein and zeaxanthin, which may slow the development of eye diseases, such as cataracts or macular degeneration
Beta-carotene, which may help protect against certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer in women before menopause
Lycopene, which may decrease the risk for ovarian cancer
Not being a science-y type, I have no idea if those medical claims will stand the test of time, but I do know the ancient Aztecs and Mayans were big consumers of peppers and that was entire eras ago. So it’s not exactly a new food. They just didn’t have blogs back then on which to post their findings.
Not that the original A&M were all that concerned about health, mind you. I think the big attraction was that they considered peppers to be aphrodisiacs. At some point, they came up with the idea to combine peppers with one of their other aphrodisiacs, chocolate, in a spicy cocoa drink. A few wars and mergers later, we got molé. I bring this up, not just because I like to mention chocolate every chance I get, but to move us along to the exciting idea of combining peppers with other foods, even the unconventional. (In my pre-molé days, I would have never thought of combining chocolate with spicy peppers, would you?)
I’m not a huge fan of the hotter pepper varieties, not in abundance, anyway. I use green chiles in my Mexican chicken and taco soup, and I love roasted green peppers on a turkey or ham sandwich, but my favorite pepper (besides plain ol’ black pepper) is pimento, a nice mild pepper that’s both a teensy bit sweet and tiny bit spicy. They look like this:
(photo credit: Nichole Treadway)
Well, that’s the way they look at Kroger. And they were on sale last week, so I bought a couple of jars.
Here in the Southern U.S., most people eat pimentos in two ways: 1) stuffed in an olive, or 2) in pimento cheese spread. One is relatively healthy; one is not. You can guess that the pimento cheese is the delicious, but lesser, food in the duo. But don’t blame the pimento! It packs a powerful nutritional punch:
Since I’m trying to eat healthier (mostly), I decided to try a variation on pimento cheese:
That, my friends, is a 50-calorie, 3-ingredient pimento cheese so scrumptious and healthy it makes you want to jump up and shout! (Seriously, I dare you to try it and not at least go, “mmmmm….”) This is pre-stir, so you can see that it is cottage cheese (low fat isn’t visible to the naked eye, but that’s what it was), some diced-by-someone-else pimentos, and some fresh black pepper. I’m intentionally omitting measurements, because it is strictly a taste thing.
This week, I stirred some more tiny red jewels into a tuna salad with equally yummy results! For some reason, while I was eating my tuna, it occurred to me that pimentos might be a nice addition to scrambled eggs & cheese. I’ll be trying that as soon as I emerge from my current moratorium on scrambled eggs.
And every now and then, I’ll embrace my roots and have some good old-fashioned pimento cheese, too, just for variety. 😉
I’m going to continue taste-driving peppers in the months to come, but I expect those of you who like the tongue scorching type peppers will have those all to yourselves. Which reminds me, if you’re ever curious about the heat value of a particular type of pepper, there’s an actual ranking index of peppers and hot sauces called the Scoville Scale!
Do you like peppers? Pimento, or otherwise? I encourage you to join me in experimenting with them and enjoying their tasty, nutritious benefits!