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This Spice Of Life Offers Some Red-Hot Health Benefits

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RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
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In spite of being a person who was brought up by an Irish mum who fed us potatoes every day, I like my food fairly spicy. I still love potatoes but have taken a shine to hotter, spicier versions, like curried potato dishes, for example.

When I started to learn about curry, I was overwhelmed with the amount of spice options and combinations (the spices in my house as a kid were salt and pepper). It took a while to learn the curry spice basics, and I experimented with chili powders and fresh chili peppers to see how they blended with other spices, and of course, how hot I could go.

Prepared Chili Sauce

The chemical called capsaicin gives chilies their "heat." The chemical excites our nerves which produces the burning sensation we feel when we eat spicy chilies, but there is no actual heat involved. Externally, capsaicin is considered an irritant.

For those of you who like to cook with fresh chili peppers and have made the mistake of touching your face or your eyes with capsaicin-laced fingers, you'll know that handling chilies can be very unpleasant. This is where store-bought bottled chili sauces come in.

The beauty of a spicy, bottled sauce is that you're in control to use as much or as little as you like without the threat of capsaicin burns. With so many sauce varieties available, we can pick, choose, experiment with and create delicious food from an exciting spicy palette.

Chili sauce has become an enormous market for foodies and spice fans. The most popular chili sauces in the world are by Rooster Brand, created in Vietnam, now produced in Los Angeles. According to Entrepreneur.com, Rooster's 2014 sales reached $60 million dollars, or 20 million bottles, and it has never paid for advertising.

Better quality pepper sauces use simple, natural ingredients and sun-ripened fruits to give a fresher tasting pepper, as opposed to those aged in dark, highway-bound trucks. The Rooster Brand chili products are made of fresh red jalapenos grown on-site and ripened open-air in the California sun.

Another U.S. sauce brand, Corine's Cuisine, uses fresh ingredients like whole garlic cloves and real lime juice in their sauces, including Scotch bonnets ripened in the tropical sun for their spicy varieties.

For spice daredevils, the Canadian company Stasis Preserves makes chili sauces made with only locally grown Ontario fruits. Ghost chilies are 107 to 417 times hotter than the mildest jalapeno, so if you like a very spicy chili sauce, Stasis' Ghost Chili Hot Sauce should do it for you.

The range of chili options is astounding; small and large; red, green, brown and yellow; and mild to tissue-melting hot. The addition of chilies to food seems to brighten the flavour in the mouth and elevates dishes to a new degree of deliciousness.

Eat more chilies for your health

The addition of even a little chili in your meals can add a massive vitamin boost. Chilies give Vitamins A, B3, B6, and K, and a whopping 400 per cent or more of our daily dose of Vitamin C. Chilies are also high in iron, potassium, copper and magnesium.

The capsaicin in chili peppers blocks the release of Substance P, a neurotransmitter that blocks pain. According to Dr. Daniel Zagst, ''Capsaicin has shown its worth as a natural pain reliever by depleting the amount of Substance P, and decreasing the number of pain signals sent to the brain.''

''The most promising research into capsaicin intake is related to its cancer-fighting properties,'' he says. ''Prostate cancer tumors shrank by 80 per cent when exposed to capsaicin. Another study found it to destroy lung cancer cells and pancreatic cancer cells without destroying nearby tissue. The capsaicin kills these cancer cells by triggering the mitochondria in the cells to undergo apoptosis, or cell-suicide.''

If this isn't enough good news, chilies can also reduce the inflammation of psoriasis, regulate blood sugar, relieve the pain of arthritis and fibromyalgia, lower cholesterol and triglyceride, and aid in weight loss. The consumption of chilies, with such flavour and so many health benefits, is constantly on the rise.

There is still a time and place for plain potatoes, but exposure to new foods means more eating, and more eating means a deeper appreciation of food. Through experimentation with world cuisine, I have expanded my culinary horizons and learned to enjoy the delicious complexities of many spice and chili varieties.

To open the mind as well as the mouth allows us to experience new and exotic foods, and that, after all, is the spice of life.

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