High on Habaneros

by Ben Miller

Want to get high?

Want to get high?

I don’t usually turn to the Economist for my food writing, but this piece from their its year-end issue caught my eye. It explains why humans are the only animal that eats chilis and other hot foods and the medical benefits of the chemical that makes peppers spicy.

According to the article, one reason why chilis may have become especially popular in poorer countries is that eating them can trigger a nerve response that can enhance the flavor of other foods. This could help make a bland diet taste better and improve nutrition. This has little benefit for animals that are foraging for food, but could aid humans hamstrung by their local agriculture.

The article also describes how eating capsaicin can also serve as a form of narcotic. In one sense, eating hot peppers can be unpleasant–it makes mouths and lips literally feel like they are on fire. But then endorphins kick in, leading to a pleasurable sense of relief–an actual high from habaneros. This endorphin release also has benefits beyond the college student sector though, as providing a capsaicin product can help reduce the pain from arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and other types of diseases.

But let’s be honest. All these benefits are great, but I like eating chili peppers because I love spicy food. The article doesn’t let this sect down either–it mentions the Dorset naga, a chili that makes habaneros seem bland. They can currently be found at the British chain Tesco, though the article doesn’t say where in the U.S. they could be located. Any ideas commenters? I’m ready for a chili high.

Image used under a Creative Commons license by flickr user Muffet


5 responses to “High on Habaneros

  1. I’ve seen these once, many moons ago in a Boston market. I didn’t buy or sample as I was traveling at the time. I looked around afterwards, but have never seen them again. The vendor at the market was careful to warn me use use gloves if I was planning on buying any, even to pick them out. That’s a sign.

    /unhelpful post

  2. Aaron Bergman

    No eñe. It’s ‘habanero’ as in the city, Havana.

  3. Just a quick note: the chiles are not called habañeros, but habaneros.

  4. Birds eat chilies, too. This is why, in many different hot places, very small chilies are called bird chilies. And it serves a purpose for the chilies. The bird eats them, the seeds pass quickly and undamaged through the bird’s digestive tract, and they fall in the shade of some shrub, protecting the resulting seedlings from the harsh tropical sun.

    Anything in the chilies that’s good for us is also good for birds. And they really like them. If you check out the selection of better quality bird treats, you’ll see many of them are chili-oriented.

  5. Meh.

    I say stick with the habs. -they obviously have the heat but also a great flavor to boot.


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