Fire in the hole


Habaneros don’t keep well, so stores are often out. When Market of Choice didn’t have any today, I asked the produce manager about something he did have that was labeled “red-hot cherry bombs.” He said they were hotter than habaneros and offered me a slice. It might as well have been a jalapeƱo. I then biked over to Plaza Latina but they too were out. The Hispanic produce lady assured me that she had something even hotter in the back. She brought a green, globe-shaped pepper for me to sample. I couldn’t understand what she called it, but I wasn’t about to let a dusky maiden from the land of fiery tamales think I was a wimpy gringo, so I ate it whole. Her eyes widened in anticipation of my screams, but again, I might as well have eaten a jalapeƱo. She disappeared into the back a second time and came out with what she called a Thai pepper. It was ominously small (like every hot pepper I’ve had), and I ate it whole too. Hotter than a habanero? Ounce for ounce, maybe. My stomach burned for two hours. Peppers eaten alone are in a different category than peppers eaten with other foods. I didn’t scream though.

I started eating habaneros a year ago because I read they were good for arthritis and for Raynaud’s (a circulatory problem affecting the extremities). The Oxford American defines them this way: “Habanero, a small chili pepper that is the hottest variety available.” At first, even a quarter inch section made my eyes water, my face turn red, and heat race across my scalp like flames through gasoline. But they grew on me. Now, I eat three with every meal and even take them to potlucks. I can’t say for sure that they helped the arthritis, but they’ve reduced the severity of the Raynaud’s by two-thirds.

I wash after I handle them but I still don’t dare put my hands near my face. I even hold myself gingerly when I pee, but I often end up with a fiery crotch anyway. Peggy burned herself just by drinking grape juice from my glass last night. The night before, she did it on a sweet potato that I peeled. A few days before that, a bite of my banana sent her running for the milk jug (milk neutralizes the capsaicin somewhat). Peggy is most decidedly not a fan of hot peppers.

Now, why would I enjoy something that hot? Well, like I said, habaneros don’t taste that hot to me anymore. Think of them as like coffee. If someone who never drinks caffeine has a cup of coffee, it will give him the jitters, but a heavy coffee drinker will scarcely notice the same amount. Peppers are also like coffee in that they have a psychoactive effect. I haven’t been able to find validation for this, but I can vouch for it from experience. Habaneros boosted my mood sufficiently that I even stopped taking Lexapro.