By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
According to new research published in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, eating chili peppers can reduce the risk of heart attacks. The study showed that supplementing a healthy diet with spicy peppers led to the greatest change in cardiovascular problems. What makes chili peppers so special?
Chili peppers come in a variety of sizes and colors and also provide a variety of flavors and heat for culinary dishes. While they’re generally known for being spicy, some types of chili peppers aren’t at all. In fact, some are even sweet. At the same time, braving those hotter recipes could be a life-saver. Before he passed, the late Chef-Instructor Bill Briwa from The Culinary Institute of America shared a wealth of knowledge with The Great Courses about common foods, including the mild to medium to hot to extremely hot chili peppers. This article contains material taught by Chef Briwa during some of the courses he made with The Great Courses.
Making the World of Chili Peppers Bite-Sized
The first step in understanding the seemingly infinite world of chili peppers is to cut it down to a manageable size. Fortunately, things aren’t as complicated as they may seem and there aren’t as many pepper species as you’d imagine.
“Some of them would be turned into other things when they’re dried or seasoned,” Chef Briwa said. “As an example, here is the jalapeño right here. If you take that jalapeño, ripen it, dry it over a slow smoky fire, and then can it, it becomes the chipotle.”
The chipotle is just one example of many. “The poblano, if it were to be ripened, it would ripen red,” Chef Briwa said. “And then if you dried it, the poblano would become an ancho.”
Furthermore, on the subject of drying chilies, Chef Briwa offered a tip about its appearance versus its use. “Interestingly enough, any of these dried chilies that are very wrinkly, that’s indicative of the fact that the flesh was really thick when it was fresh,” he said. “And as it dried, it wrinkled up. So you’ll get a lot of yield out of a dried chili that is wrinkled.”
If You Can’t Stand the Heat…
One of the mysteries surrounding chilies is what makes them so hot. Chef Briwa offered a quick pepper anatomy lesson on a habañero to explain it.
“On the inside, you will see the ribs, and if you look very closely, the rib of that chili is kind of glistening with an orange oil,” he said. “That orange oil is called capsaicin, and that’s what makes chilies hot. Sixty percent of the heat of this chili is in the ribs and the placenta, the white portion at the top that supports the seeds.”
Completing his breakdown of chili heat, Chef Briwa said that another 20 percent of the heat comes from the flesh and the final 20 percent comes from the seeds. Most importantly, this gives us an idea of how to reduce heat in common, spicy chili peppers, from jalapeños to habañeros.
“If I were to take the ribs and the seeds out of this chili, I would tone down the heat significantly,” Chef Briwa said. He offered another suggestion as well, saying that to deflame some chilies, they can be soaked overnight in a water-based mixture that contains a splash of vinegar and some salt.
However you choose to keep your diet healthy, spicy chilies can be both wrangled and tamed, should you give them a chance.
This article contains material taught by the late Chef-Instructor Bill Briwa during courses he made with The Great Courses. Chef Briwa worked in the hospitality business as a professional chef and culinary instructor for more than 30 years. He was the resident chef for The Hess Collection Winery in the Napa Valley, California; the executive chef for The Wine Spectator Restaurant at the CIA at Greystone; and an officer on the board of the St. Helena Farmers’ Market.