Hot Is Cool

Hot Is Cool

"They all felt less hungry when eating the chilies and were better able to keep portions in check," says Allison, who went on to author The Chili Pepper Diet. "They had fewer cravings for fatty foods and sweets."

Others have had similar results. Dutch researchers found that subjects who drank juice with added capsaicin 30 minutes before a meal consumed fewer calories and fat. One explanation: Korean animal studies determined that capsaicin inhibits neuropeptide-Y, a brain chemical that evidently encourages eating.

SALSA IS ONLY the start of your chili-cooking options. There are hundreds of varieties of chilies with a complex range of flavors. The trick is to find ones that boost wellness and deliver a degree of heat that falls inside your comfort zone.

To reap the health benefits of capsaicin, choose varieties that are of medium heat and hotter. If you're particularly sensitive, consider that the taste buds apparently adjust: Eat chilies regularly and you'll build up your tolerance over time.

The food industry measures capsaicin--and, by association, a chili's heat--in what are called Scoville units. The habanero and Scotch bonnet peppers, the most tongue-punishing of all chilies, have anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 Scoville units each. Less incendiary jalapenos deliver 5,000 to 15,000 units each; poblano chilies score a mellow 500 to 1,000; canned green chilies tip the scale at a mere 100 to 500. The capsaicin-free bell pepper scores zero Scoville units.

IN GENERAL, small chilies tend to be hotter than large specimens, and red chilies contain more capsaicin than green--though red chilies also have more sugar, which mellows their flavor. Since capsaicin lurks in the network of veins in the chili, the more orange the veins are, the hotter the chili will be. To defang a chili, remove its veins; dumping the seeds will also cut the heat because capsaicin rubs off on them. But be judicious: "Don't take out all the veins if you want to get the benefits of capsaicin," says Bosland.

Be careful, too, when handling these little furnaces. You'll feel the burn if your capsaicin-kissed fingers touch your eyes or any cuts on your skin, so wash your hands immediately afterward. Better yet, wear gloves. And if your well-chosen chili still sets your mouth ablaze? Drink milk, not water, to dampen the fire.