Have You Ever Wondered

. . . what makes chile peppers taste "hot"? Capsaicin in chile peppers stimulates pain receptors in your mouth. The irritation, or "heating" effect, depends on the amount of capsaicin, measured in Scoville heat units (SHU)-any-where from 1 to 300,000 SHU (mild to very hot). A sweet bell (pimento) pepper is rated at 0 to 5; an anaheim pepper at 500 to 1,000; ancho or poblano pepper at 1,000 to 1,500; jalapeno or chipotle pepper at 2,500 to 5,000; a Serrano pepper at 5,000 to 15,000; and a habanero (Scotch bonnet) pepper from 80,000 to 300,000! . . . how to reduce the "fire" caused by eating hot chile peppers? Try dairy foods! Caesin, the main protein in milk, washes away capsaicin that makes your mouth and throat "burn." Hot chile peppers do "fire up" the flavors of Thai dishes, Mexican salsas, and Cajun foods, among others. To tone down the heat, remove the seeds and inner membranes of hot chiles. To avoid a burning sensation on sensitive skin as you handle hot chiles, use rubber gloves. Never touch or rub your eyes-or any other sensitive areas-when you're handling them.

but not for others? People sense the same foods differently. Among the factors that make a difference: saliva (affected by diet, heredity, and other factors), the number of taste buds, medications, some illnesses, and smoking. The senses of taste and smell diminish with age. That's partly why older people may say: foods just don't taste the way they remember. For more about flavor and older adults, see chapter 18.

Today, taste and smell are getting more attention in the scientific world—in part because flavor is a priority for food choices. Since people eat for flavor, there's good reason to think of nutrition and taste together. That's why research is being done—for example, to make food more flavorful for older adults; to find ways to magnify salty perception while lowering levels of sodium in food; and to use biotechnology to develop more flavorful fruits and vegetables.

To get the most flavor from foods and stimulate the senses:

  • Enjoy ingredients at their peak of quality.
  • Take time to chew! Chewing stimulates saliva flow, enhancing flavor as food's components
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