A long time ago I attended a Billy Joel concert with hubby and friends. Seated across the aisle from us was the artist’s then-wife, Christie Brinkley, and their toddler child. (I did say this was a long time ago). Both mother and child were wearing the type of ear protectors that one sees worn by airport workers out on the tarmac. They needed them because the music was almost-literally ear-splitting. I had to cover my ears the entire evening.
What does this have to do with my usual gig, writing about food? Hot pepper.
Hot peppers have become all the rage. The higher the Scoville rating a pepper has, the greater the bragging rights among its fans who eat them. With names like Carolina Reaper and Bhut Jolokia Ghost Pepper, I can practically see the smoke coming out of their ears.
While the high concentration of capsaicin found in hot peppers, when incorporated into an ointment or cream, can help people deal with pain, certain varieties of hot peppers can be dangerous when consumed. Capsaicin is actually a neurotoxin and in large enough doses can cause seizures, heart attacks, and even death.
Historically, the hot pepper had a purpose. In fact, anthropologists believe that it may have helped to ensure the survival of some cultures. Before refrigeration was common, people living in tropical and subtropical climates needed a way to preserve their food. Hot peppers can help protect against the growth of bacteria and fungi. In fact, researchers at Cornell University have found that capsaicin kill or inhibit up to 75% of bacteria in food.
But aside from those reasons, what is their purpose on our dinner plates? With apologies to Harry Burns of When Harry Met Sally fame, when there’s too much pepper in your paprikash, you can’t taste the food.
It’s like going to a concert and not being able to hear the music for all the noise.