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uno se come
la luna en la tortilla
comes frijol
y comes tierra
comes chile
y comes sol y fuego
bebes agua
y bebes cielo

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one eats
the moon in a tortilla
eat frijoles
and you eat earth
eat chile
and you eat
sun and fire
drink water
and you drink sky

-Victor Valle

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After the Burn, the Glow

One may wonder how such a thoroughly pugnaciuos fruit as chile ever became the world's most widely used condiment. With chiles such as the habanero, which is the most potent domesticated species on the market, how did the early Mesoamericans ever get it in thir heads to bite this forbidding fruit, let alone develop a cuisine around it?

Plant chemists such as Dr. Eloy Rodriguez, the James Perkins Professor of Environmental Biology at Cornell University, is one of several scientists puzzled by this question. Although he has not come up with a definitive answer, Rodriguez said there's plenty of evidence to show that chiles indeed possess many admirable qualities, at least once you get past the immediate burning sensation.

So far, the more than 850 studies of chile's active chemical compounds indicate that chiles can help you lose weight, relieve joint pain, boost the circulatory system, and act as a powerful repellent against would-be muggers. When consumed in the fresh green form, this multitalented fruit contains twice as much vitamin C as oranges; when eaten in the dried form, it's an excellent source of vitamin A.

Still, chile has been blamed for such disorders as heartburn, indigestion, ulcers, and cancer. But experiments conducted at Baylor Medical School show that capsaicin, the active chemical agent in chile that tingles the tongue, is actually nonirritating. Capsaicin is also an antioxidant that retards the production of nitrosamines, which cause cancer. Other studies show that the use of chile has massive benefits to the heart as well as the arteries. Capsaicin reduces the number of blood clots in the blood vessels. It reduces blood pressure by causing the arteries to relax, and consquently strengthens the heartbeat. And there are benefits for both the weight-conscious and thrill seekers.

Regular consumers of chile benefit from an increase in their metabolic rate, thereby helping them reduce weight by burning carbohydrates more efficiently. The chile aficionado also knows that the initial burning sensation is followed by numbing afterglow that allows the addict to increase the dosage and enter a new threshold of pleasure.

It is this unique numbing property that has made capsaicin the subject of intense research. For years, Native Americans have used chile for treating the pain of toothaches and childbirth. Recently, neurologists discovered that capsaicin effectively shuts down the nerves that transmit pain messages in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and phantom-limb pain.

©Victor Valle and Mary Lau Valle
Recipe of Memory

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Last Updated: December 05, 2004
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