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The Capsaicin Effect: Homemade Hot Sauce

by Ariel Tilson

Tags: Chile Peppers, Recipes, Hot Sauce, Health, Tips, Peppers,

A.TilsonEither my taste buds are dying or I’ve developed immunity to the taste of my own cooking because increasingly I’ve had to use more and more salt in anything I create. 

I know that this can’t be good for my heart or my waistline, so in an effort to cut back, I’m trying to heat up my cooking with more peppers. 

This approach seems to work wonderfully for many of my friends and family, who pour on the Sriracha and Louisiana Hot Sauce like it’s going out of style.

So far I haven’t found quite the same enjoyment, but I’ll keep battling through my burning tears and runny nose in the hopes of cultivating an appreciation for the fierier side of life. And until I do, I’ll keep lots of yogurt within arms’ reach.

Bright peppers
Photo by Darwin Bell/Courtesy Flickr

Despite my struggles, it turns out that a love for all things spicy may not be a choice. According to Kim Erickson's article, Hot Chile Pepper Health, capsaicin, which is the active ingredient in hot peppers, can cause an addictive reaction because, as your taste buds burn, your brain produces pain-relieving endorphins. 

The only concern I’ve heard from my friends about their hot sauce habits is if too much salt is so bad for you, how can so much hot sauce be okay? 

One of the most popular misconceptions about spicy over-indulgence is that too much heat can cause stomach ulcers. However, Gina Mohammed, Ph.D. says in her article A Hot And Spicy Introduction to Peppers that the opposite is actually true. Capsaicin fights ulcer-causing bacteria and has plenty of other health benefits well worth the burn, including increased circulation and metabolism, cancer fighting antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

The most damaging aspect of hot sauce is probably the additives, such as preservatives and sugars, used in store-bought brands. So if you’re a hot sauce connoisseur, it might be a good idea to switch up your routine and make some healthier sauce of your own.

hot sauces on counter
Photo by barcoder96/Courtesy Flickr 

Last night, I experimented with Kim Erickson’s simple recipe Red Hot Sauce because, with only three ingredients, it seemed like even I couldn’t screw it up.

• 3 cups distilled white vinegar
• 2 pounds peppers (ancho, habanero, jalapeño, passilla or serrano), seeded and coarsely chopped
• 2 teaspoons salt (optional)

1. Combine the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

2. Process in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour into glass canning jars and cap tightly.

3. Store in the refrigerator and use for up to two months, or freeze for later use. Note: The intensity of this sauce increases as it ages.

As a chile pepper newbie, I chose to use jalapeño peppers, which are in the middle range of Erickson’s useful heat index. Also, I halved the recipe and excluded the salt. All in all the sauce was a hit, although I think I added too much vinegar because it tasted a little bit too limey and the kitchen still has a lingering astringent odor. 

Next time I’ll experiment with different types of peppers and flavors, and perhaps let it age longer. I’m hoping to try out The Lemon Verbena Lady’s recipe, Salsa Peruana Aji de Miguel, and Carolyn Dille and Susan Belsingers’ recipe, Habanero, Tomatillo and Orange Salsa

I’m looking forward to having special, spicy sauces to offer to my pepper-happy friends and family next time around. 

For information on growing your own hot peppers, check out Patsy Bell Hobson’s recent blog, How To: Chili Gardens

Have you tried to make your own hot sauce before? What are your favorite hot pepper recipes? Leave me a comment and let me know.