Known across the country for its chile peppers, Hatch Valley, N.M., is a spot on the map known well to foodies searching for the “it” ingredient of signature chile rellenos, chile verde and enchilada dishes. Even if you don’t consider yourself a foodie, you are if you live in New Mexico, where the state question is “Red or Green?” The state fruit takes a variety of forms in New Mexican cuisine, red or green, served roasted, as a sauce or dried and crushed into a powder. Not as spicy as a jalapeño pepper, but with more heat than a bell pepper, Hatch chile is in high demand as summer ends and festivals in their honor host thousands of visitors from around the world. Here, we can find chile in just about anything from burgers to beverages.
Photo Courtesy of @melissadunmore via Instagram
For many New Mexico families, roasting, bagging and freezing chile every season is a tradition that rivals better known holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. It may all be for good reason. The staple of our diet, recently voted best iconic American food, throughout the year packs a variety of health benefits that goes well beyond the first fiery bite.
A Healthy Heat
Bite into a Hatch chile pepper and you’ll be taken aback if the nerves on your tongue are not used to the heat. What is causing that immediate reaction is a substance within the pepper called capsaicin. Not all chiles have the same amount of capsaicin - the more intense the heat, the more capsaicin in the chile. Researchers are particularly interested in capsaicin, as they are discovering more ways it is potentially beneficial for our health. Some research is even examining it as a potential pain killer used in surgery.
From fighting inflammation to boosting immunity and clearing congestion – take a bite of a chile next time allergies strike and you’ll see what we mean – capsaicin packs a powerful punch. It has been shown to reduce cholesterol, help stop the spread of prostate cancer cells and lower the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. Eating a diet rich in chile may also help you lose weight. Our bodies kick in extra energy and burn more calories to digest chile peppers.
Capsaicin also helps ease the pain of arthritis by lowering levels of Decapeptide Substance P (DSP) in the fluid found in joints. By breaking down DSP, capsaicin minimizes the amount of cartilage erosion and the body’s ability to sense pain. You will also find capsaicin on store shelves as a topical cream to help reduce pain as well. It works by sending a signal to the nervous system from the nerves it comes in contact with to end the painful stimulus. While capsaicin has no known drug interactions, it may not be safe for everyone. Talk to your doctor if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have any previous reaction to capsaicin or skin irritation.
As mentioned, we put chile in and on nearly everything in New Mexico. There are some very creative, healthy ways to incorporate green chile into your diet. Here are a few we found.
Start your day with an omelet stuffed with green chilies.
Dress your salad with this green chile-chipotle-cilantro dressing.
Add roasted green chile to shredded chicken for a soup starter or taco filler.
Make savory green chile mac-n-cheese with this recipe.
What is your favorite green chile recipe? Share it with us on Facebook!