Seasonal spices: Heating up your summer palate

Well, it’s officially summer! And as the Arizona summer season gets underway, the sun is scorching and the temperature gauges are pegged at too hot to compute. While we’re all breaking out the ice water, our food should actually be getting hotter and spicier.

Wait, you’re thinking. What did you just say?

Yes, you read that last part right. While it may seem counterintuitive, eating hot foods have been proven to keep you cooler in the hot months. And if you think about it, it’s rather funny that the closer you get to the equator, the hotter the cultural dishes tend to get.

How on earth is that possible, you ask? While in hot weather we want to drink and eat cold things, cool foods actually works a little TOO well at cooling you off and brings down your internal body temperature. Your body’s defense mechanism is to then get back up to our stable temperature of 98.6 degrees, which makes us hotter, and frankly more miserable than more.

Eating spicy, hot foods on the other hand raises your internal temperature, matching the heat outside of your body. How that happens is that the capsaicin, the chemical compound in foods that make that hot and spicy goodness, increases your blood circulation. This is a great way to get the warm blood from your core to the skin’s surface, where the heat from your core is then let go through dilated skin capillaries in the form of sweat. As you sweat and it evaporates off of your skin, you begin to cool. Rather than feeling hot internally, you begin to radiate heat externally.

Now that sounds better, doesn’t it?

chilitempThat is why the foods and spices we associate with five and 10-alarm tongue heat have originated around the belly of the planet in areas like Mexico, Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Korea, Central and South America, Africa, the Caribbean, and India. India, especially, seems to keep outdoing itself for hottest chili peppers, like the Tezpur chili and the Bhut Jolokia chili. Both greatly outdo Mexico’s Red Savina Habanero (my personal favorite). On the Scoville heat scale, habaneros clock in at a measly 557,000 Scoville units (SHU) of pure capsaicin, while the Tezpur pegs 855,000 SHUs and the Bhut Jolokia at 1 million SHUs.

That’s pretty hot. While I am not telling you to run out and buy the hottest pepper you can find to munch on (unless that sounds absolutely fun to you!), there are numerous spices to choose from to bring up your body temperature in the next few months.

Spices are very versatile and can go on salads, into a pasta dish, or virtually any meat. Here is a list of high-heat spices and peppers you can start stocking up on this summer:

      • Red cayenne powder
      • Chipotle powder
      • Creole seasoning
      • Curry powder
      • Chili powder
      • Crushed red pepper seasoning
      • Jalapeno peppers
      • Wasabi powder
      • Whole red peppers or chile de arbol,
      • Ground fresh ginger or dried ginger root
      • Creole spice
      • Mustard seeds or powder

And there are some great ways to use seasonings, if you are unfamiliar with them. You can throw a few tablespoons in a half cup of olive oil and use it to coat your meat for the grill or to use on your vegetables instead of salt. Below is a fantastic “super” hot chili powder to use at your discretion!

Super chili powder

2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cayenne
½ teaspoon oregano
⅛ teaspoon cumin
⅛ teaspoon chipotle
⅛ teaspoon coriander
1 clove garlic, pressed
¼-inch slice of ginger, finely minced
Pinch of salt, pepper

Mix all ingredients together and store in a cool, dry, dark place. This mixture can spice up a side of beans, rice or grains. Adding this mixture with lemons juice to bitter greens like cooked collards, kale or mustard greens can also really dress up dinner!

Ever try taco “nutmeat?” It’s one of my favorite alternatives to meat, and adding this heat mixture to it tastes amazing! Enjoy it in nachos, tacos, chilies, pastas, lasagnas, wraps, or anywhere you would usually use meat!

Image by The Gem Collection Photography

1 cup walnuts
1 cup mushrooms
1/2 cup sunflower seeds and/or pumpkin seeds
1 clove garlic
1 tsp of low sodium soy sauce
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp pepper
Splash of lime juice from a freshly squeezed lime
1 tsp mixed spices (above)

Soak your walnuts for a couple of hours before preparation. Next in your food processor, grind sunflower and/or pumpkin seeds until no large chunks are visible. Then pulse in the garlic, olive oil salt, pepper, and additional spices. Add the walnuts (without the soaking water) and mushrooms, and blend until you get a coarse crumb-like consistency. You can eat your nut meat right away, or let it sit in the fridge for a while to let the flavor develop.  Nut meat should keep in the fridge for around four or five days.

Enjoy your summer, everyone!


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