Every Day is a Food Day

Peppers: Comin' in Hot!

August 31, 2022 Van Valin Productions & YumDay Season 3 Episode 33
Every Day is a Food Day
Peppers: Comin' in Hot!
Show Notes Transcript

Hi Listeners! Anna and Lia are ready to get jalapeño your business, because this episode is all about Peppers! In the Deep Dish, our Foodlosopher Anna Van Valin takes us through the science of what makes Chile peppers spicy, the chemical chain reaction that's triggered in your body when you eat a spicy pepper, and why in the world we keep eating a food that hurts to eat! Anna also tells us about pop culture pepper craze and how the latest YouTube challenges involving eating hotter and hotter peppers have contributed to the gendering of this spicy fruit! But first, our Chef-Creator Lia Ballentine gives us an epic list of pepper food holidays, talks about a festival dedicated to one of the most popular Chile peppers in the country, and tells us about the Black women entrepreneurs who made pepper pot stew the signature dish of Philadelphia—way before the Philly cheesesteak! So, are you ready to spice things up??? Listen today to get some pep in your step!

Read the transcript of this episode.

Explore more from the show:
* Check out the official website of the Hatch Chile Festival.
* Watch Mr. and Mrs. Bumblefoot get burned in the Paqui One Chip Challenge.
* Learn more about the history of Pepper Pot Stew.

Connect with us!
*Want to support our women and BIPOC-created independent podcast? Buy us a coffee!
* For more great content about the stories & foods we talk about on the show (plus a peek BTS) follow us at @FoodDayPod on Instagram, Twitter & Facebook or check out our webpage.
* Join our mailing list for extra content and to keep up with all the exciting things we have planned for this season.
*Get yourself a delicious Yumday snack box

0:00:00.0 Anna Van Valin: Here's how it works, you take an extract of the pepper, dilute it in sugar water over and over again until three out of a panel of five taste testers no longer taste it.


0:00:13.7 Lia Ballentine: Wait, so they have random taste test people.


0:00:17.0 AV: Yeah, this seems like a bad job, it also sounds like a combination... Like mad scientist, but sort of an S&M thing.


0:00:24.7 LB: Yeah.


0:00:25.2 AV: You know? 


0:00:25.9 LB: I think it's like how hot is it for you.




0:00:27.4 AV: You better eat that pepper. They're all in leather lab coats, reminds me of the arousal in aroma study...


0:00:35.4 LB: Oh, yeah. That's right.


0:00:36.3 AV: That we talked about. That was in the next room.


0:00:40.6 AV: Hi, listeners. Welcome to Every Day is a Food Day, a podcast about the stories, scandals, history and holidays behind your favorite foods.




0:01:04.5 AV: I'm your host, Foodlosopher, Anna Van Valin.


0:01:07.0 LB: And I'm your other host, Chef-Creator, Lia Ballentine. We've got some pep in our step today.


0:01:12.5 AV: Because today's episode is all about peppers. They say some like it hot, and in the deep dish, we're gonna find out why. What makes peppers spicy? Why would a plant evolve a fruit that hurts to eat? And why do we humans keep eating them? 


0:01:27.4 LB: But first, a special pepper that causes micro-vibrations, winned the party at the biggest chilly festival in the world, the black female entrepreneurs who brought a pepper stew to the streets of Philadelphia, and the first chilies in space.


0:01:40.5 AV: If you wanna support this women and BIPOC-created independent podcast, click the "Buy me a coffee link" in the show notes or on our website to help us cover the cost of production and please leave us that rating and review.


0:01:51.8 LB: For more delicious content about these foods and stories and a peak behind the scenes, check out the links in our show notes to visit our website, join our mailing list, and connect with us on social media at the screen name @FoodDayPod, including our monthly Instagram lives.


0:02:08.9 AV: Hello, Lia.


0:02:10.0 LB: Hi, Anna.


0:02:11.2 AV: We're here to talk about peppers.


0:02:13.1 LB: Yeah. Ready to spice things up? 


0:02:15.2 AV: Ready to spice up your life.


0:02:18.2 LB: Spice Girls.


0:02:19.3 AV: Spice Girls. Remember them? 


0:02:21.6 LB: I know.


0:02:22.7 AV: They're all like UN ambassadors now.


0:02:25.4 LB: That's true.




0:02:28.4 LB: Who knew? Baby spice would bring the world together.


0:02:31.9 AV: Who knew? Scary Spices is scary no more. So we're talking about peppers today.


0:02:37.6 LB: Yeah.


0:02:38.5 AV: I love peppers. I love more of the bell pepper, not quite the hot pepper, like fajitas and dip it in hummus and stuff like that, but I'll take a habanero, a jalapeño. I almost said a "Jalapeno", I don't know why.




0:02:53.3 LB: Jalapenos.


0:02:55.5 AV: I speak Spanish, but sure, jalapeno. I think I saw the word in front of my eyes. Which now after studying peppers, I'm a little embarrassed by, 'cause I know those are the mildest peppers.




0:03:07.5 LB: There's nothing wrong with that.


0:03:09.4 AV: That's right.


0:03:09.9 LB: They're really delicious. Yeah, bell peppers, just like a raw bell pepper, cutting it up, dipping it in the hummus. That's the perfect, fresh little snack when it's all crispy, and crunchy, and cold.


0:03:21.7 AV: Oh, yeah. It's got all that flavor, it's got all the texture.


0:03:24.5 LB: Yeah. I love a good sweet pepper, just where you can get a little sweet pepper, like sweet Italian peppers and just eat the whole thing.


0:03:31.5 AV: I love me a shishito.


0:03:33.3 LB: Shishitos are tricky though, because you'll be eating 'em, right? And they'll be fine, and then there's one that I'll get you.


0:03:40.6 AV: And they will sneak up on you.


0:03:42.6 LB: You never know.


0:03:44.2 AV: Yeah. And then heat kinda builds with a shishito, but like a salty sort of like pan-seared shishito, heck yes.


0:03:50.9 LB: Oh, God. I'm drooling. Yeah, get a nice little char on it.


0:03:55.8 AV: Yeah, those were really popular appetizers for a while, after people got over the charred brussel sprouts with bacon. They were sick.


0:04:02.8 LB: They were like, "Oh, this is so over," the charred brussel sprouts.


0:04:04.7 AV: The charred brussel sprouts with bacon. Then they had the little... What were they? Like scorched? Blanched? Something like that, shishitos? 


0:04:13.6 LB: Oh, scorched shishitos. Just burn them up, get a little...


0:04:17.7 AV: Burn them up, they need the little char.


0:04:19.3 LB: Gotta have the char.


0:04:21.6 AV: But you also like the super spicy ones, right? 


0:04:23.9 LB: I do. I love the spicy ones. I love the heat, I do like that it makes me sweat a little bit. I don't know, it's kind of fun.


0:04:31.5 AV: It makes you feel alive.


0:04:32.7 LB: Yeah, it's like I'm living.


0:04:34.6 AV: I can feel something.


0:04:36.7 LB: Finally make me feel something pepper.




0:04:40.2 LB: But yeah, the spicy ones, things like ghost peppers, I really love ghost peppers. It has an amazing flavor to it. I'll do Carolina Reapers, habaneros, scotch bonnet. Oh, gosh, scotch bonnet in amazing Jamaican food, there's just nothing quite like it.


0:04:57.8 AV: Wow. But you don't pop 'em in your mouth like a popcorn chicken? 


0:05:00.9 LB: Oh, no.


0:05:00.9 AV: You don't eat them like a strawberry, right? You like cook 'em in.


0:05:03.6 LB: Yeah. Like...


0:05:03.9 AV: Alright.


0:05:04.0 LB: Mince them up finely cook them. We'll take ghost peppers, we'll dry a lot of peppers and then make a powder, or do a hot sauce.


0:05:11.3 AV: Oh.


0:05:12.7 LB: Mm-hmm. Yeah.


0:05:13.4 AV: Wow, 'cause you guys actually breed your own peppers at home.


0:05:17.6 LB: Yeah, we are pepper growers, actually, Brandon is like the pepper man of the family. So years and years ago, he got really into growing and nurturing peppers, they do take a lot of care, and there's fun science behind it, but he got interested in growing like hotter and hotter peppers. We've got a ghost pepper that we call granddaddy ghost, that's been around for like a decade now, and we continue to grow peppers from it.


0:05:41.7 AV: Even through all your moves? 


0:05:43.0 LB: Yeah, it's managed to make it.


0:05:44.0 AV: Does it go in a special...


0:05:45.5 LB: Oh, this one has been taken care of.


0:05:47.5 AV: Do you have a special case? 


0:05:48.5 LB: This one gets grow lights. It is special.


0:05:51.8 AV: Wow. It must be pretty easy, it's pretty easy to access the seeds, and every pepper has a ton of seeds in them, so you could probably just spread them on a paper towel or in a shallow dish.


0:06:00.7 LB: Yeah. That's always the fun part too, when you're getting ready to plant your little seedlings and then you can just try out all kinds of peppers. We grew with tons of shishitos one year, and it was like a dream because we were eating shishitos everyday, they're so tasty.


0:06:14.1 AV: I need a yard.




0:06:15.4 LB: Yards are great. Containers, they do really well in containers too.


0:06:20.1 AV: Wow, now I'm just thinking of in fifth grade science when you had to... You had those beans, and you had to get them to sprout, right? 


0:06:27.4 LB: Yeah.


0:06:28.5 AV: On the wet paper towel on the window sill? 


0:06:30.6 LB: Right... The little things start to sprout.


0:06:35.1 AV: The little thing pops out. You do get a sense of accomplishment.


0:06:37.0 LB: It does feel good.


0:06:37.7 AV: I mean, I'm a big plant person.


0:06:39.2 LB: Yeah.


0:06:40.2 AV: So every time a leaf unfurls, you're like, "Yes, I did it. I'm queen of nature." So you are breeding them to get hotter and hotter, not just to have more? 


0:06:49.0 LB: We would want some hotter and hotter ones, we'll see what we can do, but Brandon does take the time to go through and cross-pollinate the pepper plants. It's a weird thing.




0:07:00.8 AV: I saw videos of this, you have this delicate... It almost looks like a calligraphy paint brush.


0:07:05.3 LB: Yeah. You can use a paint brush. Go find a haired paint brush and then paint your pepper flowers.


0:07:10.8 AV: Yeah. In these videos I watched, they absorb the pollen onto the paint brush and then they paint it onto another pepper plant and see if the magic happens.


0:07:22.4 LB: Yeah, and it's great too, especially if you are doing like a container garden and you don't really have a lot of bees around to help you do these things, sometimes you gotta go and pollinate it yourselves.


0:07:35.2 AV: Yeah. So people are eating hotter and hotter peppers, and I saw so many YouTube videos of people just torturing themselves with these hot peppers, and it's just astonishing to watch people do this to themselves.


0:07:49.1 LB: They just wanna hurt themselves.


0:07:51.2 AV: They just wanna hurt themselves, they just want the likes. But it reminded me of... In our very first episode, the Survival Crackers, do you remember that? The people were buying the 70-year-old containers of these nasty ass Survival Crackers. They were probably, I'm sure, nasty to begin with.


0:08:11.4 LB: Exactly. They were made nasty and they got nastier over the years.


0:08:16.1 AV: This is last resort food people.


0:08:18.4 LB: Yeah.


0:08:18.8 AV: This is the end of the world, it's this or starve.


0:08:21.9 LB: That's true, that's exactly why they made them, it was for the end of the world, and people are eating them now on YouTube. For the likes, I guess? I don't know.


0:08:31.4 AV: Find them on eBay or in old shelters or something, and then they'll open them up and there are some amazing ones. And people try to choke them down, they're fainting from the smell, so these reminded me of that. I was just, "What are you doing? This is insane, and I can't look away."


0:08:50.6 LB: There were so many videos, there were challenges for every type of pepper.


0:08:54.5 AV: I think, especially during COVID, literally, we just wanted to feel something. These communities sprung up about pretty much anything, and one of them was peppers. We'll talk about why people do this, if there is a sense of accomplishment around them and a sense of pride, but it is pretty insane to watch people hurt themselves like that.


0:09:10.9 LB: That's true. I guess, if I had to choose between Tide PODS or peppers, I'd probably go peppers.


0:09:18.5 AV: I'll pass. I'm good. But it's funny, my dad told me a story.


0:09:24.3 LB: Dr. Van Valin.


0:09:25.7 AV: Dr. Van Valin told me a story. He has lots of spicy food stories. He grew up in Texas where a ton of Tex-Mex food, a ton of spicy food, he used to just pop Jalapenos and Habaneros as a kid, so he has a pretty high tolerance and he's traveled all over the world, but he told me the story of going to Hong Kong in 1982.


0:09:46.9 LB: Okay.


0:09:47.6 AV: He went to a restaurant that had been recommended to him, that I think it was called the "Red Pepper Restaurant." And he ordered something and the waiter looked at him and said, "I'm sorry sir, but white people can't eat that."




0:10:01.4 LB: And they were doing him a service, right? 


0:10:04.0 AV: Sure, but they told a white dude from Texas that he couldn't do something. So, of course, my dad insisted on ordering it and ate the entire thing. And he told me he ate the entire thing to show to the guy that he could eat it, but of course was just dying, just absolutely dying on the inside. And he said as soon as he paid his cheque, they went straight to an ice cream parlor and just ate ice cream until their bodies cooled down. And I was like, "Why did you eat it, the guy was trying to help you?" And he said, "Cause he told me I couldn't." He was like, "I'll show him." And I think it was also he was at dinner with some other people and wanted to show them up as well, at least not back down, which is a thing we'll talk about a little bit later.


0:10:49.9 LB: And also, I guess participating in an authentic dish too, this is their dish, I'm gonna eat it even though it's gonna kill me.


0:11:00.9 AV: Yeah, there is definitely a fine line, on the one hand you want to be able to experience a local dish, but also, at least for me, at some point it's just pain. I can't actually taste what you made me, it's just crunchy pain. So it does feel a little lame to be like, "Can you make this on the mild side?" But I also want to actually enjoy the dish and be able to taste what flavors are there without just the memory of the pain.




0:11:26.8 LB: "How was it?" Oh, painful.


0:11:29.9 AV: Well, I think we've planted some seeds of ideas, should we get started? 


0:11:33.9 LB: Let's do it.




0:11:50.3 AV: Okay Lia, we've got chile with an 'E', chili with an 'I', a chili pepper, a regular pepper.


0:11:56.2 LB: Yeah.


0:11:57.8 AV: What's the deal? 


0:12:00.0 LB: Well, I don't know. But I did Google this and thanks to ChilePeppers.com, I think I have a better understanding because I myself was very confused. Until we started working on this episode, I didn't really think about the difference between chile with an 'E', chili with an 'I', and chili pepper, I just used those terms interchangeably. And according to ChilePeppers.com, I guess most people do that, but the word that you pick, the spelling that you choose, kinda depends on where you're from.


0:12:27.4 AV: Okay.


0:12:27.9 LB: But here's the deal, the purist will say "chile pepper," chile with an 'E'. They use that as the proper term for any sort of spicy pepper, and then chili for the 'I', should be reserved for just the dish chili. And then there's also a chilli with two Ls, which apparently is like the European type of spelling.


0:12:45.2 AV: Obviously.


0:12:48.5 LB: They gotta add weird letters in there.


0:12:49.9 AV: Gotta throw in those... Gotta put a... Is there a 'U' in it? Is there a 'U' in their chilli? 


0:12:53.7 LB: Right, but for this episode, we can say, chile with an 'E' chile pepper, that's really what we're talking about.


0:13:01.8 AV: Yeah, so we're gonna use pepper chile, chile pepper just kind of interchangeably. You know what we're talking about? 


0:13:07.3 LB: Yeah, you know what we're talking about.


0:13:09.4 AV: Well, we're not talking about table pepper.


0:13:11.8 LB: No, not table pepper. Well, we gotta kind of establish that there is a difference between chile pepper and pepper like black pepper, table pepper. They are from different genuses.


0:13:25.5 AV: Genuses? 


0:13:26.7 LB: Genuses.




0:13:29.2 AV: Genuses.


0:13:29.8 LB: Genuses.


0:13:31.1 AV: Is that like the phylum? 


0:13:32.8 LB: That's right.


0:13:33.7 AV: The genus of the pepper.


0:13:35.7 LB: The genus of the pepper. So chile peppers are from the genus Capsicum, and then the pepper plants that we get our black pepper from are from the genus Piper. That sounds so cute, that's like the cutest genus.


0:13:48.7 AV: Piper. Peppers from Piper.


0:13:50.9 LB: Peppers from Piper. Some members of the Capsicum genus have capsaicin. Anna is gonna talk about that and the sensation that it gives you. Interestingly enough, the bell pepper is the only member of genus Capsicum that doesn't have capsaicin.


0:14:04.6 AV: Wow.


0:14:05.3 LB: So I don't know, it just slid in there.


0:14:07.1 AV: I wonder how it got into that category if it is the exception to the rule.


0:14:12.4 LB: I know. Bell peppers, they just get away with everything.


0:14:16.5 AV: They're just too cute.


0:14:17.5 LB: Yeah.


0:14:17.9 AV: Some of them spicy peppers are ugly as hell.


0:14:21.2 LB: They're weird looking.


0:14:22.0 AV: They're weird.


0:14:22.1 LB: Like all crooked...


0:14:23.0 AV: Yeah. They're all shriveled.


0:14:23.8 LB: And like shriveled in strange places, but bell peppers are adorbs. And then the members of the Piper genus have piperine, which causes more of the biting sensation. So if you think about black pepper and peppercorns, you're not getting that spiciness but there is a bite to it.


0:14:41.1 AV: Right. It doesn't have the burn but it still has a kick.


0:14:43.9 LB: Yeah, it's all bite and no burn.


0:14:45.9 AV: All bite, no burn.


0:14:47.5 LB: Yeah, the peppercorns are the dried fruits from those particular flowering pepper plants. Now, we get all these names mixed up because some historians say it was all Christopher Columbus's fault, go figure.


0:14:58.9 AV: That f***ing guy.




0:15:00.5 LB: When he showed up to the New World and was trying dried chile pepper taste, he just confused the spicy sensation with the biting sensation and thought the plants kinda looked alike, so he just called them peppers.




0:15:12.8 AV: Well, that and he would not admit he was not in India.


0:15:16.8 LB: Exactly. He could never admit he was wrong, again.




0:15:19.1 AV: He would not admit that he was wrong, so he was in Hispaniola or whatever, and they were giving him peppers and he was like, "This is spicy and I'm in India. It must be pepper from the peppercorns."


0:15:29.8 LB: Exactly.


0:15:30.7 AV: But you know what the problem is? We're still calling it that.


0:15:33.1 LB: We're still calling it that, right? 




0:15:36.3 AV: It's stuck. Somewhere Vasco da Gama is like, "It's not pepper man, it was all me."


0:15:41.1 LB: No.




0:15:43.3 AV: Explorer joke.




0:15:46.9 LB: Blame Columbus for this one.


0:15:48.4 AV: Among many things, yes.


0:15:49.3 LB: Among many things, yeah. I was thinking about Sichuan food, which is a really delicious spicy kinda Chinese food that I love, and I thought, "It's spicy and it has Sichuan peppers in it," and I wondered, "Is that pepper also part of the genus Capsicum or Piper?" But no, it turns out it's actually in the citrus family, it's the dried fruit of a prickly ash tree.


0:16:12.0 AV: It's a citrus fruit? 


0:16:13.4 LB: Mm-hmm.


0:16:14.0 AV: But it's spicy, it's not sweet or acidic? 


0:16:16.7 LB: Yeah. So the Sichuan pepper, it's its own unique thing.


0:16:21.3 AV: Okay.


0:16:21.9 LB: Yeah. So the Sichuan pepper or the Sichuan peppercorn comes from this genus Zanthoxylum, not in the pepper families. And then if you've had Sichuan food, you know that it's hot and spicy. So if you've ordered something like a mapo tofu, you could probably see the bright red chilies in there, which give you the spice. And I was totally mistaken and thought that those red chiles were Sichuan peppers, I was wrong. Those are actually just like spicy red chiles and the Sichuan pepper that they're referring to in the cooking in the recipe is from this peppercorn.


0:16:51.6 AV: Oh.


0:16:52.7 LB: And these peppercorns, they don't give you a spice, it actually has this chemical compound in it that causes micro-vibrations across your tongue and lips. So as you're eating, there's a tingling kind of numbing sensation that you get, which sort of allows you to continue to eat the spicy food without feeling as much pain.


0:17:15.8 AV: Oh, so it kinda numbs your taste buds, it numbs your palate, so you can really taste the flavors in the spicy stuff, not just the, "Oh no, I'm on fire," part.


0:17:28.3 LB: Exactly. It brings out all of the different flavors from the dish even more and kind of takes your mind away from the heat, the burning, the pain.


0:17:37.6 AV: Wow. So why are they called peppers? 


0:17:41.0 LB: It's because of that look. So the dried pepper or the Sichuan peppercorns look just like black peppercorns and they're just named the same thing pretty much.


0:17:51.1 AV: So much confusion.


0:17:52.2 LB: Yeah, it's very confusing.


0:17:54.5 AV: Do you think the bell pepper is like, "I'm the pepper guys."? 




0:17:58.7 LB: I'm the OG pepper.


0:18:00.6 AV: I'm the real pepper. I will stand up.




0:18:04.3 LB: Something that's really interesting about Sichuan cooking and the Sichuan peppercorn is, this combination of the peppercorn and the chiles actually has its own term for the type of flavor profile and sensation that you get, and it's called mala, which means numbing and hot and spicy. So it's a really particular type of deliciousness and feeling when you're eating this Sichuan cuisine.


0:18:27.1 AV: Wow. I'm gonna have to pay attention to that more the next time I have some Sichuan food.


0:18:33.7 LB: Yeah. Seriously, that's what I'm thinking of. The next time I have Sichuan food, I wanna really think about that tingling and the micro-vibrations across my tongue and lips.


0:18:42.7 AV: Yeah. I wanna feel some micro-vibrations.


0:18:45.4 LB: Yeah. And they say that that's just gonna help you eat even more food. That's what I'm gonna blame it on when I overeat my dish.


0:18:52.2 AV: Yeah. You're like, "The micro-vibrations, they tricked me.


0:18:55.0 LB: Yeah. It's not my fault.






0:19:02.1 AV: Well, we've got so many different varieties of chiles, chile peppers, peppercorns. We gotta be celebrating these kids. I'm expecting an epic list here, Lia, of our holidays.


0:19:13.8 LB: Oh, and you would be correct. There are so many holidays that are dedicated to chiles, the chile peppers, to also just generally hot and spicy things. So I'm gonna go through the epic list of food holidays, all about spicy stuff. So here we go.


0:19:27.9 AV: Here we go.


0:19:28.6 LB: We have International Hot & Spicy Food Day on January 16th. We have Hot Sauce Day on January 22nd, which happens to be Wilbur Scoville's birthday. And you're gonna talk about Mr. Scoville later on.


0:19:40.5 AV: We'll get to Mr. Scoville and his chart and his ratings and his test in a little bit.


0:19:43.8 LB: Oh, yes. Nice. And then we have National Chili Day, the fourth Thursday of February. And that's Chili with an 'I', so we're talking about the dish there.


0:19:52.0 AV: Got it.


0:19:52.7 LB: National Green Peppers Day, August 5th, National Hot and Spicy Food Day, August 19th. It's different from International Hot & Spicy Food Day, btdubs. We have Stuffed Green Bell Pepper Day, August 28th.


0:20:05.5 AV: Yum.


0:20:05.8 LB: There's Pueblo Chile Day, which happens some time in September, usually on the second Saturday of the Colorado State Fair. So this is a Colorado specific day.


0:20:14.6 AV: It's a holiday inside a celebration.


0:20:16.5 LB: Exactly.


0:20:17.3 AV: Got it.


0:20:17.8 LB: Inside of a festival. Just how we like it.




0:20:21.0 LB: We have National Pickled Peppers month in October, and then National Chili Month with an 'I' in October. Oh, there was National Chili Week, which is the first week of October, which makes sense. There's a day called Datil Pepper Day, and this is a specific pepper from St. Augustine, Florida, and they have their own celebration. The first Saturday in October. There's Pickled Peppers Week, October 13th ish. So sometime mid-October you have National Pepper Month which is November, National Green Chili Day, December 16th and National Pepper Pot Day, December 29th.


0:20:55.4 AV: Okay. So pretty much all year round.


0:20:58.4 LB: Yeah.


0:20:58.8 AV: Besides the Colorado State Fair. How about festivals? Do we have any festivals that are dedicated to chile peppers? 


0:21:05.7 LB: Oh yes. So there's actually this calendar of all of the world's hot sauce and chile festivals @crafthotsauce.com. So this is a Hot Sauce company, but they have done the work to list out the entire world's chile and hot sauce festivals. [chuckle] So in case you wanna know, you can go to crafthotsauce.com.


0:21:23.5 AV: They're on the pulse.


0:21:25.2 LB: Yeah. They're.


0:21:25.6 AV: The burning pulse. [laughter]


0:21:27.1 LB: But I think an important one that we all should know about is probably my favorite of the chiles is the Hatch Chile Festival in Hatch New Mexico, which is also known as the chile capital of the world.


0:21:39.2 AV: Yes.


0:21:40.0 LB: The festival's actually coming up September 2nd through the 4th this year, and they are celebrating their 50th anniversary. And of course, just like every good food festival, there's eating contests.


0:21:50.7 AV: Sure.


0:21:51.3 LB: There's booze. You got a parade, there's music, there's magic and a pageant.


0:21:56.7 AV: Oh heck yes.


0:21:58.1 LB: But I do know they have chile queens and then they also have like little Miss Chile queens.


0:22:02.2 AV: Tell me the crown is made of chiles.


0:22:04.5 LB: Oh, I bet they, they've got to have like a, some sort of like chile sash.


0:22:09.5 AV: Oh yeah. It's such a versatile material.


0:22:12.5 LB: Exactly. [chuckle]


0:22:13.3 AV: And it always looks festive when you pile them on top of each other.


0:22:15.7 LB: That's right. [chuckle], they just like unhang, like those racks of dry chiles. [chuckle]


0:22:21.0 AV: Yes that everybody has on their porches. Well, that's the thing. So I have family in New Mexico. So they've been there many times. And again, they do not mess around with the chiles. And specifically there's red versions and green versions. And no matter what you order in New Mexico, they're gonna ask you red or green? And they expect you to have... It's kind of like your Starbucks coffee order.


0:22:41.6 LB: Yeah.


0:22:42.0 AV: They expect you to say like, "Oh, light green."




0:22:44.7 AV: Or like heavy red, or you can say Christmas.


0:22:47.6 LB: Yeah.


0:22:47.7 AV: Which is a mix of both. So how did this chile, this pepper specifically get so popular? 


0:22:55.6 LB: Well, the reason why it is so important and gets this type of attention is that the Hatch Valley became like the place to grow, truly the best chile out there. The Hatch chile pepper has the perfect balance of flavor and sweetness and spiciness and smokiness. And a lot of it is attributed to the soil that it's grown in. So Hatch Valley was a flood plain for the Rio Grande and they had temperatures that would give you those really hot days and very cool nights. And it was just the right soil to grow a great chile pepper. And the hatch chile is only available for a limited time. So it's kind of like the pumpkin spice of chile's. Like you gotta like it's hatch chile time people, let's do it.


0:23:37.7 AV: Yeah.


0:23:37.7 LB: Let's get ready.


0:23:38.4 AV: You gotta move. You don't wanna miss out.


0:23:40.2 LB: Yeah. So there's something just so special about harvest season, something super special about the flavor and the texture of these chiles. And another cool thing is that a lot of the chile farms in the Hatch Valley are run by families who've been doing this for generations.


0:23:55.3 AV: Wow.


0:23:55.8 LB: So there's a lot of family pride in the hatch chiles that you see. And one of the first commercial chile farmers was a hatch chile farmer named Joseph Franzoy, who basically made the Hatch Valley the chile capital in the 20th century. So this person was an Austrian immigrant. He settled in Hatch in 1917, and there's a story where he noticed his farming neighbors were growing these chile peppers and he ate it and was like, "Whoa, what is this? I've never... "


0:24:22.1 AV: "We don't have this in Vienna."


0:24:23.5 LB: Right. This is something so different. And he just kind of became enamored with this chile pepper and started to grow it on his farm. And he came up with the idea that we should share this with the people. And he started to farm and grow these chiles commercially, set up the distribution for it. And he's one of the folks that started the Hatch Chile Festival that's celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.


0:24:44.4 AV: Oh wow. So if he moved to Hatch in 1917 and the festival's 50 years old, like that was his life.


0:24:50.0 LB: Yeah. This was his life. His children just like the rest of the chile farmers, it's like a family business. So they're still running the chile farms. One of the fun stories was about the kids, modernizing the whole idea of chile marketing. So they're probably the folks behind like the Great Hatch Chile social media.




0:25:06.3 AV: The Hatch Chile TikTok.


0:25:09.4 LB: Oh, I bet it's on Fire.




0:25:12.6 LB: And another thing I love about Hatch chiles are, they're the first chiles in space.


0:25:17.6 AV: What? 


0:25:18.7 LB: Yeah. Last year astronauts decided to grow chiles on the International Space Station and they worked with some farmers in Hatch Valley to create a little dwarf version of the hatch chile that they could plant in their little plant space station and try to harvest and grow.


0:25:36.5 AV: Wow.


0:25:38.0 LB: So here's a great clip from Matt Romeyn, who is a NASA plant scientist, and here he tells us a little bit more about this experiment, what they hope to gain from it, and how they kicked it off last year in July.


0:25:48.2 Matt Romeyn: Hi. I'm Matt Romeyn. I'm a plant scientist helping astronauts grow peppers in space. Why? Because in order to send humans to Mars we need to spice things up. NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough recently added water to the 48 seedling to start the experiment for the National Space Station. The peppers would be grown in the advanced plant habitat, a plant grow chamber about the size of a kitchen oven. Peppers will be ripe for harvest in about three and a half months. The type of peppers are NuMex "Española Improved". A hybrid pepper from New Mexico often grow in the Hatch Valley. These peppers had the best combination of performance and flavor of nearly two dozen cultivars we tested. These peppers are not just flavorful, but also nutritious, being more dense in vitamin C than even an orange. This research will expand NASA's space cookbook, will help keep the astronauts healthy and they're senses satisfied as we venture to the moon and Mars.


0:26:39.1 AV: But did he fertilize them with his poop? 




0:26:42.3 LB: Good question. I'm going to say yes. That's what they all do.


0:26:46.3 AV: Matt Damon, what a trend setter. [laughter]


0:26:49.8 LB: It was really challenging because chiles already have a long germination period and it was even longer in space. But they did get the pepper plants to grow enough to make tacos.


0:27:00.3 AV: I mean, then it's worth it.


0:27:01.8 LB: Yeah, for sure.


0:27:02.9 AV: How do they make the tortillas? 


0:27:04.5 LB: Oh, I don't know.


0:27:06.2 AV: Do you think they kept like flying off? Like frisbees or like flying saucers? 


0:27:12.2 LB: Just like flying saucers.


0:27:13.6 AV: What if flying saucers are actually tortillas? 


0:27:17.9 LB: Wouldn't that be nice? [laughter]


0:27:18.9 AV: Call Mulder and Scully. I figured it out.




0:27:21.4 LB: And another reason why they decided to grow a chile in space was they said it would actually be fun to grow something that was kind of exciting, you know, beyond just your... Like salad foods. Like have something with a little bit of kick.


0:27:36.6 AV: Yeah. Like the arugula sprouted. Yay. More squash everyone.


0:27:42.9 LB: Yeah. So it was like fun for them to grow chiles.




0:27:50.5 AV: In your epic holiday list, you mentioned a holiday for a food that I'm actually not familiar with. Pepper pot, National Pepper Pot Day. So is Pepper pot a dish, like a meal? Is it a pot? Is it where you keep or cook the peppers? What is Pepper pot? 


0:28:06.7 LB: Oh, I'm so excited to tell you this because this was one of the dishes that I discovered when I was cooking every food holiday for a year.


0:28:14.3 AV: Right. Right.


0:28:15.2 LB: And when I was looking this up, I was like, "How do I do this?" I found some great recipes for Pepper pot stew and discovered this incredibly fascinating origin story behind it. Pepper pot stew is a really thick stew. I think traditionally it's a trite, but when I made it I found like some great cuts of beef and then you add veggies to it and then you add peppers, the spicier the better. And it's kind of a nice comforting hot, spicy stew. The holiday falls on December 29th when we celebrate Pepper Pot Stew Day. And it just makes sense 'cause it is like the perfect comfort food to have on a cold day.


0:28:46.5 AV: It sounds homey and warm.


0:28:48.9 LB: But something I found out was that Pepper pot stew was actually the signature dish of Philadelphia for a long time, way before the Philly cheese steak became a thing.


0:29:00.2 AV: Interesting. Gritty never mentioned that.


0:29:03.6 LB: Yeah. What does Gritty know? [chuckle] He scares me. [laughter]


0:29:06.8 AV: The last thing I wanna see is Gritty eating soup.


0:29:10.0 LB: I know. Oh no. [laughter] Pepper pot stew has a nickname. It has been called "The Soup That Won the War" because there's a story that during the American Revolutionary War, the soup helped keep soldiers warm during the winter and Valley Forge. Yeah, I can kind of see that. Like a big pot of hot soup.


0:29:28.3 AV: Okay.


0:29:28.9 LB: But when you think about the ingredients, especially when I was going through the ingredient list, when I was trying to make the recipe and it was calling for tripe and spicy peppers like scotch bonnets, I was like, "The soup has to have its origins. Maybe not in Philadelphia." [laughter] And I found out that it came from West Africa and the Caribbean and it was brought to the US by enslaved people.


0:29:49.5 AV: Oh, okay.


0:29:50.1 LB: And so everyone started to kind of create their own versions of that stew here with whatever they could get. So in West Africa and the Caribbean, the greens were like callaloo. You had spicy pepper varieties and then bringing it here, the veggies kind of switched out a little bit. They added potatoes to it and it's changed over time. So here is a great clip featuring Tonya Hopkins, who's a food and drink historian talking with the Philadelphia Inquirer about Pepper pot soups origins, and how it became popular in Philadelphia by the late 18th century. And why Black chefs today are reclaiming this dish.


0:30:22.2 Tonya Hopkins: Two centuries later after these Black African Heritage, West Indian Caribbean women are cooking it on the streets and selling it. It's like this soup... It gets taken, reappropriated. And this soup goes from being what it is. This African origin, Caribbean developed, imported and made here and sold by Black People soup to being this most famous soup of the Revolutionary War. George Washington's famous favorite soup. It gets attributed to Betsy Ross, who has nothing to do with the soup. It gets attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who to my knowledge has nothing to do with the soup. And it get... The soup gets kind of whitewashed. And why? 


0:31:07.7 TH: Because it's not if you... Once you start to dig into it and understand that that Washington, George Washington, he grew up basically on cookery by the hands of Black cooks. And so the reason I'm so excited about Pepper pot soup is because, it's like bringing it back home, bringing Pepper pot... This is a tongue twister. Bringing Pepper pot back to us.


0:31:40.4 LB: In that clip. I think you might have heard Tonya mention Black Women brought the soup to Philly. So these women were called the "Pepper Pot Women" and they were free Black women who were entrepreneurs making and selling pepper pot all over the streets of Philadelphia.


0:31:55.1 AV: Cool.


0:31:56.2 LB: Yeah. In 1810, there were more than 23,000 Black residents in Pennsylvania and they were mostly free. So this was the largest free Black Community in the country at the time.


0:32:08.0 AV: Wow.


0:32:09.0 LB: Yeah. I was so surprised by that. And so a lot of folks were coming so they could try to find jobs, but jobs were still really limited. The opportunities were limited, by certain laws and systems. They were hard for Black men to get jobs and even harder for Black women. So these women created their own jobs. And this business of selling Pepper Pots stew became such a big boost to the Philadelphia economy. In the early 19th century, you could find Pepper pot Women vendors throughout the city. You would hear cries of "Pepper pot, smoking hot."


0:32:41.8 LB: They would just be on the corners and you could go get your Pepper Pot Stew. And what is so awesome is many of these women then were able to become financially self-sufficient. And I thought this was such a wonderful story and something that I'd never heard of before. But it reminded me a lot of our chile queens that we talked about.


0:32:57.6 AV: Yes. Our chile queens in... Was it Dallas? 


0:33:00.8 LB: San Antonio.


0:33:02.1 AV: San Antonio. The San Antonio chile queens. Yeah, out there with their big carts, their big bowls of chile, feeding the troops, feeding the citizens as they're going to work. Yeah. They should have been the Pepper Pot Queens.


0:33:13.4 LB: They should have been the pepper pot queens. Maybe we can start that. We just need to call them. The pepper pot queens.


0:33:18.8 AV: I'll go edit the Wikipedia.


0:33:20.3 LB: Yeah. [laughter] But I thought this was really interesting because again, we've talked about this in so many episodes, how women created their own futures.


0:33:28.2 AV: Absolutely.


0:33:28.9 LB: Because they were being discriminated against. They didn't let that stop them from starting their own businesses through food and becoming super successful on their own.


0:33:39.4 AV: Love it. Super interesting. Leah, thank you so much for sharing this with us.


0:33:43.6 LB: You're welcome.


0:33:44.9 AV: Everybody get out there and get yourself some pepper pot stew.


0:33:47.1 LB: Get some pepper pot stew.


0:33:48.1 AV: It's also fun to say.


0:33:49.5 LB: It is fun.


0:33:50.2 AV: Pepper pot.




0:34:05.6 AV: Okay, Anna. You ready to heat things up? 


0:34:06.9 LB: I'm ready to heat things up.


0:34:08.6 AV: Let's do it. As I always, when I'm starting to think about what I wanna talk about in the deep dish, thinking about what's unique, what's special about this food. And with peppers, it's really the spice, this kind of heat burning spice, right? You don't get that from a lot of foods. You really, really get that in chile peppers. So it's a unique attribute to the food and it's also become this kind of unique cultural phenomenon. Beyonce's got hot sauce in her bag.


0:34:33.9 LB: Yep.


0:34:34.3 AV: Swag.




0:34:35.9 AV: We've got the hot ones show on YouTube, which has like 255 episodes.


0:34:41.1 LB: What? 


0:34:41.2 AV: Or something insane. Where else are you gonna see Shaq cry and drink a gallon of milk? 


0:34:46.7 LB: Crying Shaq.


0:34:47.7 AV: Staring straight to camera. There started to be whole communities around this and contests and competitions and all this stuff. So I really wanted to look at, first of all, why are peppers spicy? What gives them this unique feature? And then also, why do humans keep eating them? 




0:35:08.1 LB: What's wrong with us guys? 


0:35:09.5 AV: What is wrong with us? Why do we keep hurting ourselves? [chuckle] So that's what we're gonna talk about today. Why are peppers spicy and why do we keep eating them? 


0:35:19.7 LB: Love it.


0:35:20.6 AV: The reason that we call this kind of spiciness hot and not flavorful, right? Because there's other kinds of spices. There's salt, cinnamon.


0:35:28.7 LB: Mm-hmm.


0:35:29.0 AV: Table pepper, nutmeg, saffron, we're not talking about that. We're not talking about the spicy Hermit cookie.




0:35:39.5 AV: We call this spiciness hot because it feels like our mouth is burning.




0:35:44.0 AV: It feels like we are on fire, but we're not. There's no temperature change. It's not like you eat a slice of pizza and the it's too hot and the cheese sticks to the roof of your mouth and there's actually a burn. Or you drink a cup of tea that's just too hot. Right? There's actually a burn and then you get that kitten tongue.


0:36:00.4 LB: Oh yeah.


0:36:00.6 AV: Your tongue, feels like a cat tongue. But it feels the same. And that's because your body and your brain are basically tricking you in order to protect you.


0:36:12.4 LB: Oh.


0:36:13.1 AV: Which is a theme sort of throughout that I never thought about actually in all of our episodes, is how your body protects you by telling you not to eat something.


0:36:23.9 LB: Interesting. Okay.


0:36:25.7 AV: The trick begins.




0:36:27.4 AV: With capsaicin.


0:36:29.3 LB: Oh.


0:36:29.7 AV: Say it with me everyone. Capsaicin.


0:36:31.5 LB: Capsaicin.


0:36:32.5 AV: Capsaicin is a colorless, odorless, chemical compound usually found in the tissue around the seeds inside of a pepper. People. We're gonna get a little sciency now.


0:36:43.6 LB: Oh.


0:36:44.0 AV: We're gonna get a little sciency. We're gonna get a little chemistry in here. Little biology.


0:36:48.0 LB: Get your lab coats.


0:36:48.9 AV: Put your lab coats on kids.


0:36:50.2 LB: Goggle... Safety goggles.


0:36:51.3 AV: Get your little beakers.


0:36:52.5 LB: Eye wash is over there.


0:36:53.8 AV: Find the eye wash station.




0:36:57.7 AV: Because we're gonna look at the solution to the spiciness situation in your mouth. You have what are called TRPV1 receptors. In your mouth and digestive tract. And those react to anything that could cause damage to your tissues in the digestive tract. So that's like boiling water, piping hot food, acidic foods. When the receptors detect these substances, it sets off a chain reaction of triggers between your body and your brain.


0:37:30.0 LB: Huh? 


0:37:31.0 AV: Got it.


0:37:31.5 LB: Uh huh.


0:37:32.2 AV: So let's say you eat something that is just way too hot and it's burning you. The receptors will trigger the release of neurotransmitters that carry a signal to your brain that says, yo, we're on fire.




0:37:44.8 AV: This is hurting us. Hey brain, wake up. Your brain says, oh sh**, we're on fire. It sends two messages back to the body to try to protect it.


0:37:54.7 LB: Okay.


0:37:55.6 AV: The first message it sends is the sensation of pain. Pain is our brain and our body's way of telling us something is wrong. And the second message the brain sends to the body is, get this sh** out of me.




0:38:08.3 AV: And you start to sweat.


0:38:10.6 LB: Oh yeah.


0:38:10.8 AV: Or your eyes water or your nose runs or get really, really thirsty and wanna drink a ton of water. Or you have to run immediately to the nearest bathroom.




0:38:19.5 AV: That is because your body is actually trying to purge this toxin that the receptors in your mouth have told your brain is killing you.




0:38:27.3 AV: But it actually doesn't raise your body temperature at all. It's so interesting because you think that, oh we sweat 'cause we're hot.


0:38:35.1 LB: Yeah.


0:38:35.4 AV: We're not. We're sweating to get this out of us. Even though it's not thermally hot or acidic. The capsaicin in peppers binds to the TRPV1 receptor and the exact same reaction occurs. So neurotransmitters tell our brain we're being burned. The brain sends back a message that is A, pain, and B, get it out of here.


0:39:02.7 LB: Get it out. [laughter]


0:39:03.7 AV: And the more capsaicin is concentrated in that pepper, the higher the amount of capsaicin, the more intense the sensation. So basically peppers pull the fire alarm. In your body. It's a false alarm. Literally.


0:39:20.1 LB: I love how clear though, they're like, guys, seriously stop. This is hurting you. You need to get it out.


0:39:25.4 AV: I know. The fact that we keep eating it just feel like kind of a betrayal. Her brains are like, we evolved entire systems, delicate systems to get you to stop and you just keep going. So here's a couple more hot tips. One is if you eat a pepper and it's killing you, that burning sensation. You wanna drink milk, not water.


0:39:45.1 LB: Yeah.


0:39:45.8 AV: Because chemistry, capsaicin does not dissolve in water. So if you drink water or you swish it around your mouth, you're just spreading it out.


0:39:54.7 LB: Yeah. You're making it worse. [laughter]


0:39:56.4 AV: You're making it worse. You're spreading the capsaicin around. So let's say the capsaicin hasn't stuck to the roof of your mouth now, or your lips. Now it has. Milk does dissolve capsaicin, so you are actually flushing that out. Hence, Shaq chugging a gallon of milk, looking straight to camera. And here's another food day fun fact. There is a food that causes the opposite reaction, and that is mint.


0:40:22.2 LB: Oh.


0:40:23.1 AV: So, you know, everything that's like cool mint, cool mint sensation, double mint gum.


0:40:27.7 LB: Yeah.


0:40:28.2 AV: That's real. So mint gets its flavor from menthol, which triggers a protein receptor in your mouths, and that one's called TRPM8. And that is a cold receptor.


0:40:40.7 LB: Huh? 


0:40:41.8 AV: So mint tells your brain, "We are eating something cold," just the same way that the other receptors tell your brain, "We're on fire."


0:40:47.4 LB: Aah, I see.


0:40:49.2 AV: I don't know if you've ever noticed this, but on a hot day, mint chocolate chip ice cream tastes colder than a bowl of chocolate ice cream.


0:40:57.8 LB: Oh, I've been eating a lot of mint chocolate ice cream lately.


0:41:01.1 AV: Right? Because you're getting the cooling effect from both the ice cream and the menthol in the mint. It will literally, studies have shown, cool you faster than other flavors of ice cream. One thing, though, if you're somebody who is really, really sensitive to spice and you wish you had a vigor tolerance to it, you can actually build that up. TRPV1 receptors become desensitized pretty fast. So how do we measure the spiciness of a pepper? How do we know, for example, that the Carolina Reaper is the hottest pepper? We know that because of something called the Scoville scale, which was invented by pharmacist Wilbur Scoville in 1912. And if you google him, he's a funny looking dude, just saying. [laughter] And it rates spiciness of a food in units of 100 Scoville heat units.


0:41:53.5 LB: Okay.


0:41:54.2 AV: Here's how it works. You take an extract of the pepper, dilute it in sugar water over and over again until three out of a panel of five taste testers no longer taste it.




0:42:07.7 LB: Wait. So they have random taste test people.


0:42:11.0 AV: Yeah, this seems like a bad job. It also sounds like a combination like mad scientist, but sort of an S&M thing.


0:42:18.9 LB: Yeah.


0:42:19.5 AV: You know.


0:42:20.2 LB: It's like, "How hot is it for you?" [chuckle]


0:42:21.4 AV: "You better eat that pepper." They're all in leather lab coats.


0:42:25.8 LB: Ooh.




0:42:27.4 AV: Yes, which reminds me of the arousal and aroma study that we talked about.


0:42:31.0 LB: Oh, yeah. That's right.




0:42:33.7 AV: That was in the next room, over. So for example, if 1 milliliter of the pepper extract took only 100 milliliters of the sugar water to dilute the spiciness out of it, then it would rate as a 100 Scoville heat units.


0:42:47.6 LB: Okay.


0:42:47.8 AV: Or SHU or SHU.


0:42:50.0 LB: The SHU.


0:42:51.0 AV: So when we're talking about a million rating, that means that 1 milliliter needed to be dissolved in a million milliliters. [laughter] What is that? 


0:43:04.4 LB: That's a lot of Kool-Aid.




0:43:08.7 AV: Do you think they just have their own cows for how much milk? They have their own dairy farm.


0:43:14.3 LB: You'd have to.


0:43:15.0 AV: Yeah.


0:43:15.4 LB: Or there's like a Baskin-Robbins right next to the lab.




0:43:19.7 AV: We need more mint chip.


0:43:20.8 LB: Yeah.




0:43:22.9 AV: So here are some familiar peppers and their rating, so you can kind of wrap your brain around the relative spice levels. So our friend the bell pepper, zero, no capsaicin in that bad boy. A jalapeño is 2500-8000. So these are all ranges because, of course, different fruits are gonna have different specific concentrations. So jalapeño, 2500-8000. Cayenne pepper, 30,000-50,000, big jump. Habanero, 150,000-325,000. Ghost Pepper, which I know you love.


0:44:01.7 LB: I do.


0:44:02.1 AV: 800,000-1,000,000 Scoville heat units.


0:44:05.7 LB: Oh wow. Okay.


0:44:07.7 AV: And the Carolina Reaper, which is the hottest pepper ever grown, which we drank a mead made out of it a few weeks ago, that is 2.2 to 2.6 million Scoville heat units.


0:44:21.4 LB: Ooh.


0:44:22.4 AV: And then pepper spray, [laughter] which is like aerosol capsaicin is 2 to 5.3 million, so right there with the Carolina Reaper, and then just pure capsaicin is 15 to 16 million Scoville heat units. So that's the max.


0:44:38.6 LB: Ouch. [chuckle]


0:44:39.8 AV: So if you think about it, there's a long way to go between what we have now, and God knows people are gonna...


0:44:45.4 LB: There are so many more peppers we can create. [chuckle]


0:44:48.0 AV: The ugliest, nastiest peppers. Here's a hot tip. If you're like, "I didn't bring my three to five tasters with me to the restaurant, how can I tell which are the more or less spicy peppers?" Peppers get spicier as they age or ripen, so the riper, the spicier, just like with the hatch chile. Red peppers with thick stems have aged more, have ripened more, so they're spicier. If you see a smaller, greener pepper with a thinner stem, that means it's less ripe, it's younger, so it's gonna be less spicy, which I like because it's like, red means stop, green means go.


0:45:25.5 LB: Yeah. Nature is telling us, "Uh-uh."


0:45:29.3 AV: Uh-uh.


0:45:29.9 LB: Don't do it.


0:45:31.0 AV: From all sides.


0:45:32.1 LB: Yeah.


0:45:32.6 AV: Inside and outside. All right, we've established that it's the capsaicin in the pepper that causes the burning sensation.


0:45:41.1 LB: Yes, that's right. Okay.


0:45:43.7 AV: Here's my next burning question. As you told us earlier, peppers are the fruit of their plants. It's the fruit because it has seeds. And the whole point of fruits being edible is so that an animal will eat it, will go somewhere else, poop out those seeds and a new plant will grow in that new location. Right? 


0:46:03.9 LB: Mm-hmm.


0:46:04.5 AV: So my question is, "If the survival of an entire species of plant relies on other animals eating its fruit, why would it evolve a fruit that hurts to eat?"


0:46:17.7 LB: Good question.


0:46:20.2 AV: I mean, the humans were not exactly propagating it.


0:46:20.8 LB: Yeah.


0:46:21.9 AV: But other animals, like if a squirrel bites a pepper, they're gonna be like, nah. And not go near any other pepper again or a deer or whatever. Right. So again, what's the deal with peppers being spicy? 


0:46:34.4 LB: What's the deal? 


0:46:35.9 AV: So I asked the internet and also science [laughter] and here are some theories on why peppers evolved to be spicy. And one is birds.


0:46:46.1 LB: Birds? .


0:46:47.1 AV: Birds do not have the same taste receptors in their digestive tracts as mammals. The capsaicin does not affect them. So birds can eat the peppers, no problem. And they're great for spreading seeds in their poop.


0:47:03.2 LB: Yeah.


0:47:03.7 AV: Fly all over the place.


0:47:03.9 LB: Mm-hmm.


0:47:04.7 AV: However, mammals like aforementioned squirrel, deer, they have teeth.


0:47:12.1 LB: Oh.


0:47:13.1 AV: And teeth destroy seeds.


0:47:17.3 LB: Yeah.


0:47:17.4 AV: When they eat a pepper, they're gonna grind up all the seeds.


0:47:19.2 LB: Exactly.


0:47:19.8 AV: So it doesn't matter when they poop it out, it can't grow.


0:47:21.9 LB: Good point.


0:47:22.6 AV: One theory is, in order to keep mammals away from eating their fruit, but to get birds to eat the fruit, they developed the capsaicin.


0:47:32.3 LB: Oh, okay. So like they're kind of tricking them with the fruit. Then you try it. If you're a mammal and you're like, "Ooh, this is bad."




0:47:40.0 AV: Yeah. Nope, nope. Nope.


0:47:41.6 LB: You stay away.


0:47:42.6 AV: Exactly. And I kind of like that. It's not like there's razor sharp thorns.


0:47:44.6 LB: Yeah.


0:47:45.7 AV: It's not gonna hurt anybody. It's just like a, nope.


0:47:49.9 LB: Mm-hmm.


0:47:49.9 AV: Another theory for why plants would evolve a burning fruit, is that insects and microbes also don't like capsaicin.


0:47:57.8 LB: Ah.


0:48:00.0 AV: So researchers have found that the higher the capsaicin levels in the fruit, the slower the fungal growth, the slower the mold and mildew growth and the less damage parasitic insects make.


0:48:13.0 LB: I like this.


0:48:13.8 AV: Yeah. So it doesn't just repel squirrels. It also repels mold, mildew rot.


0:48:18.9 LB: Mm-hmm.


0:48:20.1 AV: Fruit flies, stuff like that. So that's another protective agent. It's antimicrobial and antifungal.


0:48:25.8 LB: Oh, nice.




0:48:31.2 LB: Okay. Now we know why peppers are spicy. We know why they evolve to be spicy. So now I'm even more confused as to why people eat them.


0:48:40.7 AV: I know. Like there are other foods.


0:48:43.2 LB: Exactly. So why do we eat them? 


0:48:46.2 AV: Believe it or not, there are actually a few reasons. The first reason why people traditionally have eaten these spicy foods is kind of out of necessity. So like we learned in barbecue with smoking meat or in hot dogs with grinding up meat and putting it in a casing before refrigeration we had to come up with ways to make our food last longer.


0:49:06.3 LB: Yeah.


0:49:07.7 AV: And as we just established, capsaicin has antimicrobial antifungal properties. Before refrigeration things went bad fast and putting spices in them helped slow down that process.


0:49:20.8 LB: Mm-hmm.


0:49:21.8 AV: Also, it made it a bit more palatable because again, this is another thing I never really thought of. A way that our body protects us and tells us don't eat that, is that when food goes bad, it tastes bad.


0:49:33.9 LB: Yeah.


0:49:34.6 AV: There's a difference between, I don't like this zucchini, but I'll just eat the zucchini and drinking a mouthful of milk that's gone bad. Right? 


0:49:44.6 LB: Yeah. When you get that whiff and you're like, oh.


0:49:47.1 AV: That's the worst when you didn't see it coming.


0:49:48.4 LB: Yeah.


0:49:50.0 AV: Our bodies can tell the difference between, I just don't like this and this is bad for me... So you can mask the taste [laughter], pour some chili on it.


0:50:00.6 LB: That's right. Well, you know what they say, like sriracha is the savior of cheap Chinese food. [laughter], you just like squirt that all over and it's fine.


0:50:08.8 AV: It's like dry shampoo. It's like dry shampoo for me.


0:50:11.6 LB: Yep. [laughter]


0:50:13.0 AV: But where do you think this would be the biggest issue? 


0:50:17.4 LB: Well, the warmer it is, the faster it's gonna go bad. So I'm going to guess hot places.


0:50:23.0 AV: Exactly. On the surface it's kind of confusing that people in hotter places like Mexico or India eat a lot of spicy food. It's like, are you not warm enough? [chuckle] gotta eat these peppers. But it's not because people from thermal countries have a genetic predisposition to liking spicy food or something like that. It's because in pre-refrigeration times they needed more spices to preserve the meat. And then that flavor profile became part of the culture and tradition. And like I said earlier, those taste receptors in your digestive tract, they get desensitized to the burn over time. So if people start eating spicy food when they're little kids, they're just gonna have a higher tolerance for it as adults.


0:51:04.3 LB: Yeah.


0:51:05.5 AV: There is a theory out there that people in thermal countries eat spicy food to get themselves to sweat, so they'll cool off faster. And that is nonsense.




0:51:17.4 LB: I've heard that before. So that is a myth.


0:51:18.9 AV: It's nonsense.


0:51:19.2 AV: That's a complete myth.


0:51:20.2 AV: It's a myth. Because here's the thing. As someone who is just in Mexico where there's chili everywhere in the summer, sweat is not gonna do dick for you. If it's 100% humidity, [laughter], there is no shade, there is no sweat, there is no cool breeze that will help you. So places like Thailand, India, are you kidding me? It's not going to help. I did look at a study where they had runners at the end of a marathon drink hot water versus...


0:51:48.6 LB: Oh gross.


0:51:50.0 AV: Cold water. I know it sounds horrible, right? It said that the hot water did cool them off faster 'cause it made them sweat. My question is, weren't they already sweating? 


0:51:57.8 LB: Yeah.


0:52:00.4 AV: They just went for like a huge run. But it only cooled off runners when they did it in a very, very dry climate.


0:52:06.1 LB: Oh, okay. So now I understand like, all right, and these warmer climates, the spice help to preserve the food... Keep it fresh for longer. But like we all have refrigerators now, [laughter], so you would kind of think maybe we don't need the spicy stuff as much, right? 


0:52:23.7 AV: Yeah. It makes less and less sense. Right? [laughter], The number of people eating peppers and spicy foods has skyrocketed in the last 20 years. According to an article in GQ magazine, the hot sauce market grew 150% between 2000 and 2010, which is more than all other condiments combined.


0:52:44.0 LB: Woah.


0:52:45.0 AV: And then in the last 10 years, that's when all these competitions, festivals, the shows, the YouTube stuff, that's where it's taken off. So this is really, really the question when we could eat anything in the world...


0:52:57.8 LB: Yeah.


0:53:00.6 AV: Why are we eating this? The first reason goes back to that capsaicin chain reaction. That's right. More chemistry people.


0:53:07.7 LB: Yeah.


0:53:08.1 AV: Yeah. Put your leather lab coat back on.


0:53:14.0 LB: I know. [laughter]


0:53:15.4 AV: So we've got the capsaicin tells the brain, sh**, we're on fire. The brain says, Hey, check out this pain and also get the sh** out of me. And then once the pain registers, the brain floods the body with endorphins and dopamine.


0:53:31.8 LB: Oh.


0:53:31.9 AV: Evolutionarily the response to great pain is endorphins and dopamine. Because if you're hurt, you need to be distracted enough from your pain to keep moving. Right? 


0:53:44.0 LB: Yeah.


0:53:44.3 AV: The saber-toothed tiger bites your legs. You need to keep running.


0:53:47.1 LB: Gotta go.


0:53:47.8 AV: If you're in a house that's on fire, you need to keep going. It does that so you can get out of danger even if the danger is something you've put in your own face.




0:54:00.1 LB: That you knew was going to hurt you.


0:54:02.8 AV: That you knew you were taking advantage of the brain's chain reaction. So a lot of people describe a rush. There's the pain and then there's the rush afterwards that you feel this kind of heightened, elated high. Another is personality, thrill seekers. There are people out there who are more risk tolerant and there are people with thrill seeking personalities. So I did see some reports that people who like spicy food are more likely to go on roller coasters. They're more likely to wanna skydive, they're more likely to wanna do those kinds of thrilling pushing boundaries things. And kind of tangential to that is this idea of mind over matter.


0:54:44.8 LB: Huh? 


0:54:45.4 AV: As people, as humans, I think we're always trying to stretch ourselves and challenge ourselves.


0:54:50.7 LB: Yeah.


0:54:51.0 AV: Get out of our comfort zone. And I mean a million Scoville peppers definitely are gonna get you outta your comfort zone.


0:54:58.4 LB: Yep.


0:54:58.9 AV: There's this mind over matter phenomenon, right? Because if you can tell yourself I'm not actually in pain, I'm not actually in danger, understanding that your brain and body are having a reaction that is false. You know, kinda like being on a rollercoaster, right? Your body's telling you we're gonna fall, we're gonna die, but you're not, you're safe. There were a lot of people that after eating the pepper, and it may also have been 'cause your brain flooded you with happy drugs, [laughter] you feel this sense of accomplishment. Like, I did that thing. I got through that thing.


0:55:31.3 LB: Ah, okay. Yeah.


0:55:32.0 AV: I conquered my... I don't know, anti torture mechanism. [laughter]


0:55:37.8 LB: I finished the wings. [laughter]


0:55:41.9 AV: But another thing that got brought up to me, actually the first thing that my partner Lou said to me when I said we're doing peppers was, you should talk about dudes eating hot peppers to show off.


0:55:52.2 LB: Yes.


0:55:52.5 AV: And that had never occurred to me. But then I was like the Mead guys, are sweet buddies. Nick and Evan, when they were here from the Mead cast, they told us about making their mango reaper mead. Which we drank, it was delicious. And they were talking about how they got this whole shipment of Carolina Reaper peppers to the hottest peppers on record and that they were all like daring each other, [laughter] to eat this pepper. And they were like, "No man, I can eat the whole one. I can eat the whole one." And then he said they all like called in sick the next day. [laughter] And when I was watching lots of videos people torturing themselves with peppers. I heard a lot of that like, be a man.


0:56:31.0 LB: Oh wow.


0:56:31.7 AV: Be a man. Eat the pepper. You know? 


0:56:34.0 LB: It is true though because there were so many YouTube videos and YouTube challenges and it was all usually like a dude.


0:56:41.0 AV: Yes.


0:56:41.2 LB: Eating Carolina Reapers and Ghost Peppers and trying to show off.


0:56:44.7 AV: Right. There's way more men in these competitions that we're gonna talk about. I read an essay on mike.com by a Haitian American man who said that when he was growing up, his dad was disappointed in him because he had a sweet tooth.


0:56:56.9 LB: What? 


0:56:57.7 AV: He didn't like spicy food like Pikliz is a traditional Haitian like kind of relish.


0:57:02.6 LB: Yeah.


0:57:02.7 AV: And he didn't like it. And his dad was disappointed in him.


0:57:05.9 LB: Just like Homer getting Bart to eat the bacon. [laughter]


0:57:10.6 AV: Exactly. And his heart hurts.


0:57:12.0 LB: I know. [chuckle]


0:57:13.0 AV: We've talked so much about gendering food. It's one of our favorite topics. Salad is girly, meat is manly. And our bottom line is stop it. That's our message. [laughter] Stop it. But this really reminded me of the bacon episode, like with the Simpson's clip where we talked about how eating food that's really, really bad for you and not caring about your health is somehow considered more masculine. And really when we say that, we are saying it's considered not womanly. Because proving you're a man is also trying to prove that you're not like a woman. It's also rooted in this misogyny, right? And eating foods that are painful to some people might show that you're tough. Or you're not a wuss or not like a woman. Even though women are in pain all the time.


0:57:55.1 LB: Yeah.


0:57:55.3 AV: We are in pain constantly. We don't need a parade, we don't need YouTube likes, we're just in pain. [laughter] Okay. It's the same kind of thing. It's this like hurting yourself makes you a man. And I was wondering like, is that just peacocking? You know, are you just doing that for the likes? 


0:58:12.2 LB: Yep.


0:58:12.6 AV: No. There is science again that shows that this is actually true. So I read a study called Gender Differences in the Influence of Personality Traits on Spicy Food Liking and Intake from June, 2015. And it was created by Nadia K. Byrnes and John E. Hayes at Pennsylvania State University. So they had participants fill out all these surveys that kind of measured their personality traits and then also filled out surveys about liking and consuming spicy food. And what it found was that women who ate spicy foods strongly fell into the category of sensation seeking. So they were focused on the sensation and the taste. Meaning that women eat spicy food because they like it.


0:58:56.9 LB: Yeah.


0:58:57.5 AV: 'Cause it tastes good and they like the feeling.


0:59:00.2 LB: Which is like why you should eat it if you like it.


0:59:02.1 AV: Right.


0:59:03.4 LB: Yeah.


0:59:03.6 AV: So they ate spicy food for its intrinsic values. But the men who ate and liked spicy food fell strongly in the sensitivity to reward, [laughter] personality category. Meaning that they were more motivated by the perceived external rewards they got from eating spicy things like respect, attention, pride, et cetera. Not that they liked the food.


0:59:30.3 LB: Wow.


0:59:31.4 AV: So women like spicy foods 'cause they like it and men like it because they like what they get from it externally. Isn't that crazy? 


0:59:39.0 LB: That is so crazy.


0:59:40.5 AV: You know, the mind over matter thing. I can kind of get like, I'm gonna eat this and I'm gonna talk myself through it. I mean people walk over hot coals.


0:59:47.2 LB: Yeah.


0:59:47.3 AV: People bungee jump, you know, people do that kind of thing. But I told my brain I'm on fire and that makes me a man. I don't get it. [laughter] It seems like too much work. You just are a man. It's fine.


0:59:56.9 LB: It's so weird.


0:59:58.1 AV: It's fine. We acknowledge you as just being a man, you don't have to set your face on fire.




1:00:08.7 AV: So people have their reasons for eating peppers, but as we said, you get desensitized over time, so in order to up the capsaicin to feel that burn... To get that high, people are breeding peppers hotter and hotter, so the hottest peppers, they didn't come from nature, like the Carolina Reaper, you're not gonna find that growing in a meadow. You know what I mean? 


1:00:34.8 LB: Right.


1:00:34.9 AV: You think about the poor squirrel biting into a pepper and it's like it's face falling off, it's not biting into a Carolina Reaper, 'cause those only grow in the lab. [laughter] There's one person who is kind of a MacDaddy of breeding hot papers, and he's really been at the forefront of this whole paradigm cultural shift in pepper eating, and that's a guy named Ed Currie. Yes, his last name is Currie, the spice man.


1:01:00.8 LB: He was meant to do this.


1:01:02.5 AV: Right. It was like buzz the beekeeper.


1:01:04.5 LB: Yeah.


1:01:05.2 AV: It was his destiny. He runs a company called PuckerButt Pepper Company, he created the Carolina Reaper in 2011, and he has this whole operation to cross-breed and experiment with Peppers, here's an interview with him talking about how and why he breeds these peppers, which is really sweet. He has a lot of heart, but also goes back to that rush that we talked about...


1:01:29.5 Ed Currie: I was on a search for hotter things than I could get, and this was a Vietnamese restaurant that specialized in spicy food, and I asked them to make it the hottest they could, and they said, "No, no, no." And I said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." And when I ate it, I got a rush. I got... I literally got a rush, like I was taking some dope...


1:01:50.3 Ron Bumblefoot Thal: Currie has been sober for over 20 years now, but he says that a natural high has kept him going producing and eating hotter and hotter peppers.


1:02:00.0 EC: When I first ate the Reaper, it knocked me to my knees, I was like three years clean, I hadn't felt that feeling in a long time I knew that was hot. You get this like euphoric feeling and that's your body trying to overtake the pain that the chemical reaction is giving you, and eventually the endorphins rush overtakes the pain, and when you get into the higher pain, you get to more pleasure. So it's just chasing the dragon.


1:02:22.8 AV: Ed has also been a part of creating these festivals and these celebrations, so he's...


1:02:26.8 LB: Oh, wow.


1:02:28.3 AV: His company is a co-sponsor of the New York City hot sauce Expo.


1:02:32.2 LB: Oh, yeah.


1:02:34.2 AV: Which is coming up in September. It started nine years ago, and there's lots of events contests, recipe contests, cocktail contests, hot sauce tastings, there's events called things like donuts of death, [laughter] tacos from hell, and then the hot pepper eating contest is called the stage of doom.


1:02:55.3 LB: Oh, wow.


1:02:56.5 AV: Yes, the contest this year is sponsored by PuckerButt. I'm gonna keep saying that, PuckerButt and Guinness World Records, they want to set a record for pepper eating this year.


1:03:07.7 LB: Oh, my God. I wonder if there's gonna be like a break out pepper eating star, like the Joey Chestnut of chilli peppers.


1:03:14.3 AV: Well, I found at least one contender.


1:03:18.5 LB: You did? 


1:03:18.9 AV: Yes, he is a rising star of the pepper eating competitions, and his name is Dustin 'Atomik Menace' Johnson.


1:03:28.5 LB: So this is legit because it doesn't count if you don't have a nickname...


1:03:32.3 AV: No, if you don't have a nickname, You're just a person...


1:03:34.3 LB: Yeah, but if you're the Atomik Menace.


1:03:36.4 AV: The Atomik menace... What does it mean? Are you like a menace to... I don't know, atoms? 


1:03:42.2 LB: Atoms? 


1:03:42.3 AV: All of your atoms are a menace. A menace to peppers, to what... I don't know. It's all his mystic.


1:03:47.2 LB: Explain Dustin, 'Atomik Menace' Johnson.


1:03:50.0 AV: It does seem like one of those internet like, make your porn name or like make your super hero name. It was like, what's your favorite color and your zodiac sign? And he got Atomik Menace, he's won a few competitions, but his claim to fame is eating 122 Carolina Reapers in under two hours.


1:04:12.5 LB: That's insane.


1:04:13.4 AV: I have so many questions.


1:04:14.8 LB: That's why he's the Atomik Menace...


1:04:17.0 AV: To his bathroom.


1:04:19.2 LB: Oh God.


1:04:21.0 AV: To the EMTs. What on earth? 


1:04:22.4 LB: How do you do that? 


1:04:23.8 AV: For me, the biggest thing there is not the 122 peppers. It's the two hours.


1:04:29.7 LB: Yeah. He just kept going.


1:04:31.3 AV: There's a few things that I can focus on for two hours, let alone something that's killing me.


1:04:36.9 LB: Oh... And I can't even imagine the butthole problems later.


1:04:41.3 AV: Oh man, so he did this on a YouTube Livestream with all of these fans and the pepper community cheering him on/it's almost like a snuff film like... Why would you wanna watch this? And I'm like, was he allowed a break? Did he just leave to go cry? Do his tears hurt? 


1:05:01.8 LB: That's a good question.


1:05:03.5 AV: That is a question.


1:05:05.8 LB: I mean, everything's burning.


1:05:06.3 AV: What happened during the toilet paper shortage. Did this just stop. Did this cause the supply chain issues. Again, so many questions, he trains for it by upping his body's capsaicin tolerance, and I just have this image of him like doping himself every day, a little bit more with the capsaicin, in like Rasputin style or like Wesley from Princess Bride. [laughter]


1:05:34.8 LB: That's right. You've gotta build up the tolerance.


1:05:38.0 AV: In case he gets in a battle of wits.


1:05:41.0 LB: That's right.


1:05:41.8 AV: One thing that you guys may have heard of was the Paqui One Chip Challenge.


1:05:45.4 LB: Yes. Oh, my gosh.


1:05:47.2 AV: Of course, it was a real thing. And it was also totally a social media trap, sold as one chip in a single coffin-shaped package, and the whole point was to eat it on camera, and I'm sure show the logo, show the packaging, everything like that, and hell it worked. This was another brainchild of Ed Currie.


1:06:08.4 LB: Wow. Ed Currie.


1:06:10.5 AV: Yep. I got kind of obsessed with one of these Paqui videos, I'm not gonna lie, it is the former guitarist for Guns N' Roses Ron Bumblefoot Thal and Jen Bumblefoot who are married.


1:06:24.2 LB: Oh, she took the Bumblefoot name. [laughter]


1:06:31.3 AV: She took the Bumblefoot name. She's referred to as Mrs. Bumblefoot, which is like either you're a hard rockers wife, or you're like in the next classroom over from Ms. Frizzle.


1:06:41.3 LB: Ms. Frizzle and Ms. Bumblefoot.


1:06:44.3 AV: Ms. Frizzle and Ms. Bumblefoot. So Mr. And Mrs. Bumblefoot eat the Paqui chip and we'll link to it. You all have to watch it, but I just have to play you a little bit of this insane video.


1:06:55.9 RT: Hi everybody, I am Ron Bumblefoot Thal. This is Mrs. Bumblefoot.


1:06:58.3 Jen Bumblefoot: Hi.


1:07:00.5 RT: And we are gonna take the one chip challenge. It's like ripping off a band aid, just gotta do it. Ready, one, two, three.


1:07:16.4 RT: F***! It's hot. It hits you right away. It's not so bad. So yeah, it's a hot chip... If you like pain, you're gonna like this. It doesn't seem to go away. There's no burning. Now I'm starting to feel it in other parts of the body as it goes down... Eyes are tearing. Wow. Ouch. Aah! F***.


1:07:43.2 JB: Did you just touch your face? I told you not to touch it.


1:07:45.4 RT: I did. Alright, I no longer have use of my right eye. Yeah...


1:07:52.2 AV: That's it. That's why peppers are spicy, why they evolved to be spicy, and those are some reasons you can take them as good reasons or not, why we still eat them, even though we know. We know better.


1:08:04.3 LB: We do know better, or maybe we don't...


1:08:07.3 AV: Maybe we don't...


1:08:08.2 LB: We don't know any better.


1:08:08.8 AV: We've not learned that lesson.


1:08:11.8 LB: Anna that was great. I love the chemistry, I feel so much smarter, like now I can talk about these receptors to people whenever I'm eating something hot and spicy, and I love going through all of these reasons why we eat it, the gendering of food again pops up with hot pepper so...


1:08:27.9 AV: Yeah, it's so human why we do this, we do all kinds of crazy things to ourselves we shouldn't do, and this is just one of them, but it's all in our quest to fulfill our potential. Stay spicy everybody.




1:08:46.4 LB: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Every Day is a Food Day. Be sure to follow the show and catch up on past episodes wherever you get your podcast. Connect with us on social media @fooddaypod, join our mailing list through our website, yumday.co/podcast, and don't forget to leave us that rating and review.


1:09:04.4 AV: The clips of music you heard today were from to Philadelphia Inquirer, NASA, wire.com, the Spice Girls, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Salt-N-Pepa.


1:09:13.4 LB: Every Day is a Food Day is a production of Van Valin productions and YumDay. It is produced and hosted by us, Lia Ballentine and Anna Van Valin.