Did you know that spices were once so valuable that centuries ago, black peppercorns were used like money to pay for rent and salaries?
During Christopher Columbus’s era, chilli peppers were only known to the natives in then Mesoamerica ( an area covering Central Mexico to Northern Costa Rica). He brought it back to Spain with the spicy “aji” (its local name), it was the Portuguese who spread this spicy spice to the rest of the world.
When the Portuguese came to Thailand to share Christian beliefs, the locals did not welcome the religion as much as they accepted the chilli pepper. Today, the chilli is so integrated into Thai cuisine that people forget that it was not a native resource to begin with.
In addition to enhancing the amazing taste of Thai food with its spicy and hot flavours, chilli peppers also have several health benefits.
The Benefits of Chili Peppers
You can embark on a guiltless food trip in Amazing Thailand, thanks to the following benefits.
- Chillies in weight loss
Capsaicin, the primary chemical in chilli peppers, is the reason for it’s “hot” sensation you feel when you eat spicy food containing them. Since it is the chemical that makes up most of the chilli, most studies focus on its effects. Capsaicin helps in weight loss in several ways.
For one, if you’ve heard about the thermic effect of food, you would know that your body increases its metabolic rate just by eating food. According to studies, spicy foods have a higher thermic effect and thus, increases metabolic rate. Although studies show that it’s a small percentage, it still does help with faster digestion and burning more calories.
Another study shows capsaicin’s increased effect on fat oxidation. Fat oxidation is needed to break down big fat molecules into smaller forms that can be transformed into energy for the body to use. When fats are used as energy, they are spent by way of transforming them to ATP, a usable form of energy for cells.
Capsaicin also prevents adipogenesis or the formation of fat cells. In the same study, it also showed that this chemical stimulates self-destruction of fat cells and cells that are about to become fat cells.
Another effect of capsaicin is increased satiety or fullness. In one study, satiety levels were measured among men and women who took either capsaicin in tomato juice or capsule forms. Results showed that the chemical increased their feeling of fullness and decreased their appetite.
- Chillies enhance heart health
Several research studies were done on capsaicin probe its effects to prevent fatal diseases. Of note are its benefits on heart health. One researcher did an experiment on mice. He found out that the chemical prevented apoptosis (destruction) of heart cells. It was then recommended that more studies be made on this beneficial effect in humans.
Another research study found that capsaicin prevented the build up of cholesterol and promoted its elimination through the stool. They also found that it promotes blood flow by inhibiting a gene that causes blood vessels to contract. This combination of effects leads to the prevention of heart attacks as well as strokes.
- Chillies improves sexual health
The “hot” factor of chilli peppers led researchers to discover its effects on sexual health. One study found that capsaicin increased spermatocyte count and testosterone levels. Testosterone is responsible for libido, or sexual drive. This research is further backed by another study conducted by French scientists.
Being vasodilators, chilli peppers naturally opens up blood vessels to promote good blood flow. Believe it or not, this affects sexual performance. This is in a similar fashion to how Viagra functions to enhance your performance in bed. Since this drug has adverse effects, going natural with chilli peppers is a much better choice although a mild one.
Eating chilli releases the hormones adrenaline and epinephrine that cause a feeling of being “high” which can increase sexual drive. The feel-good hormone epinephrine also enhances the mood that will provide for more pleasure during intercourse.
- Chillies helps prevent hair loss
Hair loss may be caused by a variety of factors including heredity, age, and medical conditions. The prevalence of hair growth and hair loss preventive products stresses how people value hair thickness. Sad to say, many of these products prove ineffective.
The good news is, studies found that capsaicin in chilli peppers may have something to contribute to this issue. A study on both mice and humans found that capsaicin can promote hair growth in both cases, but more so on those who were naturally bald males. This effect was further enhanced when capsaicin was given with soy isoflavones.
The scientific reasoning for capsaicin’s effect on hair growth lies on enhancing the levels of growth hormone or IGF-1 in the surface of the skin. This hormone is responsible for hair growth and anti-aging effects.
- Chillies fight cancer
Although some studies show that topical application of capsaicin has adverse effects and acts as a carcinogen, other studies show its anti-cancer effects.
One study tested its effects on breast cancer cells. As a result, the cancer cells’ multiplication slowed down and some tumours died.
Another more extensive study showed that capsaicin can cause cell death in a variety of different kinds of cancer cells. It also showed that this chemical can prevent cancer from becoming worse by inhibiting blood vessel creation, which otherwise makes way for cancer cells to grow bigger. Capsaicin also prevented metastasis or the invasion of cancer cells in different organs of the body.
Popular Spicy Thai Foods
With all these benefits, you’re probably wondering which next chili-pepper-rich Thai dish you will try aside from which places you will explore. We suggest you get started with these:
Tom Yum Goong or Spicy Shrimp Soup is a mix of primary two flavours, spicy and sour. The spiciness comes from the Thai chilli and galangal or ginger. It is combined with the fresh taste of lemongrass and other herbs.
Som Tum or Spicy Green Papaya Salad is a slightly sweet and spicy side dish that is great for cooling down in hot weather. All the ingredients are mixed in a mortar and pestled to distribute the flavours evenly. The main ingredient of this dish is green papaya that is shredded into strips and mixed with peanuts for added crunch. It also comes with tomatoes, dried shrimp, Thai beans, and of course, fish sauce, tamarind paste, garlic and lots of Thai chilis.
Tom Kha Kai or Chicken in Coconut Soup, could be considered a milder version of the Tom Yum soup. Its soup is basically like Tom Yum made with lime, lemongrass, chilli and ginger, but with an added creamy coconut milk.
These are but a few of many delicious Thai dishes. Thai cuisine is definitely not short on spicy chilli pepper dishes that will not only challenge you with its hot flavours but surprise you with its health benefits. And even better news, you don’t have to pay much for them. You can find many of these dishes as street food – accessible, affordable, and healthy!