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Spices are the Spice of Life

Food is food.  Even Chinese food.  But, add some spices and BAM!  It’s not just Chinese food anymore.  Of course, #AllChineseFoodMatters.  BUT, you haven’t had “real” Chinese food until you kick it up a notch by spicing it up.  Different Chinese foods use different spices to make them unique, and the spices used are indigenous to the region in which they are found.  

Let’s explore, shall we, by examining Chili Peppers to start off with.

The spice, found in Central America after the voyages of Columbus, is the basis of all our favorite cuisines.  From Thailand and China, to India (the world’s largest producer) and Texas (formerly of Mexico) it is the cause of the “heat” in the food.  The Portuguese were the ones who brought it to Asia (Goa was a colony until 1961).

Chili Pepper

chili-pepperThe substances that give chili peppers their intensity when ingested or applied topically are capsaicin and several related chemicals, collectively called capsaicinoids.  By the way, Capsaicin is also the primary component in pepper spray, a less-than-lethal weapon.  So, if someone at your dining table is boring you to tears, just breath in their direction!  (just kidding!)

Dining.  Kung pao chicken (Mandarin Chinese: 宫保鸡丁 gōng bǎo jī dīng) from the Sichuan region of China uses small hot dried chilies briefly fried in oil to add spice to the oil then used for frying.

Medicinally, Red chilies contain large amounts of vitamin C and small amounts of carotene (provitamin A). Yellow and especially green chilies (which are essentially unripe fruit) contain a considerably lower amount of both substances.  In addition, peppers are a good source of most B vitamins, and vitamin B6 in particular. They are very high in potassium, magnesium, and iron. Their very high vitamin C content can also substantially increase the uptake of non-heme iron from other ingredients in a meal, such as beans and grains.

A very large study published by the British Medical Journal found some indications that humans who consume spicy foods, especially fresh chili peppers, were less likely to die of cancer or diabetes.

Capsaicin is considered a safe and effective topical analgesic agent in the management of arthritis pain, herpes zoster-related pain, diabetic neuropathy, mastectomy pain, and headaches.  A 2015 cohort study in China found that eating foods containing chili peppers at least twice a week led to a 10 percent reduced mortality rate all else being equal and eating foods containing chili peppers 6 to 7 days a week had a 14 percent relative risk reduction in total mortality; there was an inverse correlation between eating fresh chilies and diabetes not found in the remainder of the cohort.

Cayenne Pepper

cayenne-pepperCayenne is used in cooking spicy dishes, as a powder or in its whole form (such as in Korean, Sichuan, and other Asian cuisine), or in a thin, vinegar-based sauce.

Cayenne is a hot chili pepper used to flavor dishes. It is named for the city of Cayenne in French Guiana.

Medicinally, Cayenne pepper consumption dilates the blood vessels and speeds the metabolism due to the high amounts of capsaicin. With the consumption of cayenne peppers, the amount of heat the human body puts off is influenced.  In animal studies, capsaicin has the ability to boost metabolism, which in turn causes weight loss.  Cayenne pepper is also claimed to be an aphrodisiac because it contains capsaicin.  It has also been shown to aid in the oxidation of adipose tissue, regulate high blood pressure, promote healthy liver function and tissue production, help regulate the digestive system.

Jalapeno Pepper


Compared to other chillies, the jalapeño heat level varies from mild to hot depending on cultivation and preparation.

In Chinese cuisine, Jalapeno peppers work in a variety of Chicken and Pork recipes.  Try them.  Experiment.  Look for them on the menu of your favorite Chinese restaurant.

So, not only do spices spice up your dishes, improve your health, but they can also spice up your sex life!

What are your favorite spices and Chinese dishes?

Humbly submitted for your consumption,

Mee Magnum  (“Chop!  Chop!”)

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One comment

  1. (9/19/16 at 3:00pm) Updated the article with some geographical and historical data.

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