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Exploring the World of Spice and Smoke
Tags >> science

Capsaicin Keeps Rats Skinny

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: science , Capsaicin

RatKorean researchers fed five-week-old rats high-fat diets. Some got a daily oral injection of capsaicin, the fiery chemical in chile peppers, or just a control (the liquid that had been used to dilute the capsaicin). Throughout the course of the experiment, the rats getting capsaicin gained 8 percent less weight than untreated animals, and just a little more weight than rats eating a normal diet.

The capsaicin-treated rats also developed less body fat and accumulated smaller fat droplets within fat cells. The researchers noted “that capsaicin can have a significant inhibitory effect against fat accumulation.” But what's really significant in the research is the identification of which genes are selectively affected by consumption of dietary fat or by capsaicin.

They found, for instance, that a high fat diet up-regulated genes producing 17 proteins, including heat shock protein and preoxiredoxin. Some 10 of which were normalized or almost returned to normal in the animals treated with capsaicin. Some of the proteins altered by capsaicin treatment have been linked to obesity — or its prevention — before. Others appear to be newly identified players. A report of the new findings appears in the June 4, 2010 Journal of Proteome Research.

In total, the new findings suggest there may be dietary routes to slowing or even reversing obesity and related diseases through the use of pungent chemicals like capsaicin.


Food Tech

Episode: Mexican

Thursday, February 11 09:00 PM

Friday, February 12 01:00 AM

Thursday, February 18 08:00 PM

Friday, February 19 12:00 AM

With Americans eating more than 85 billion tortillas a year, Mexican food is very popular. But did you know that a donkey is a key to great tequila? Ever wondered how many times they refry refried beans? And what do sound waves have to do with guacamole? Watch host Bobby Bognar as he travels south of the border to help an old artist make a classic Mexican cooking dish from volcanic rock. On the high seas, he'll try to keep his cookies in a rough and tumble hunt for mahi mahi. And he visits El Pinto's salsa processing plant in Albuquerque and talks with Jim Garcia and John and Jim Thomas, "The Salsa Twins" as they process their best-selling salsa. And he'll show us how a fruit that resembles a human brain becomes a classic Mexican after-dinner drink.

Rating: TVPG

Running Time: 60 minutes

Distasteful Solutions to Gnawing Problems

Posted by: Lois Manno

Tagged in: science , Capsaicin

Destructive pets chew all kinds of objects.

You gotta love a company that names its most popular product Repela.TM According the the company’s website, this is “a combination of denatonium benzoate and natural capsaicin. Denatonium benzoate is a compound that is extremely bitter–so bitter in fact, that just a few grains put into a glass of water would make if absolutely undrinkable by a human or an animal. Add to this a highly concentrated extract of the hottest peppers in the world, and you have a product that animals cannot endure chewing.” The site is interesting because many of the natural ingredients upon which Aversion’s products are based are described in detail, including traditional holistic applications.


Destructive pets chew all kinds of objects.


chemical makeup of cocaine

Twenty-six cases of people in the 1990s who died unexpectedly while in police custody after being doused with pepper spray might be explained by a toxic reaction caused by capsaicin in the spray. It seems that pepper spray intensifies the effect of cocaine and other psychostimulants, resulting in death. All the victims had either cocaine or another psychostimulant in their bloodstreams. Laboratory tests on mice support the evidence that mixing capsaicin and cocaine makes for a very bad high. Read more here.


What Do You Believe About Food?

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: science , food trends , controversy , books

Do You Believe Any of the Following Statements? 1. The "locavore" movement (shopping and eating locally) is a good practice. 2. Shortening food miles (the distance your food travels) helps the environment. 3. Organic gardening and farming techniques are superior to traditional methods. 4. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are inherently evil. 5. Eating meat is a perfectly acceptable practice.

If you do believe any of them, you may be totally wrong and all of these statements are completely false, according to James E. McWilliams, author of a new book entitled Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. This is a shocking book because it rationally explores and deconstructs all the objections to popular ideas about what constitutes a healthy and ethical diet.  McWilliams, an associate professor at Texas State University and the author of A Revolution in Eating, the best food history of U.S. colonial and post-colonial food, goes way, way out on a limb here, and in an email last week I told him to watch his back because of the backlash of true believers in the above statement.  I think he makes excellent arguments and that the other side of the story should be told.  That said, this book is not easy reading--you have to pay close attention, have an open mind, and be something of a skeptic yourself.  I would like to hear comments--but only from people who have actually read the book.  You can buy the book here.


Wilbur Scoville invented the Scoville Organoleptic Test for measuring the heat in chile peppers while working for Parke-Davis pharmaceutical corporation in 1912 in Detroit.  But before then, he was a professor at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston.  A librarian at the Henrietta Benedictis Health Sciences Library at the College was kind enough to track down and scan this photo from an early yearbook at the request of Lee Robinson, a video producer for Jupiter Entertainment, who needed it for a new chile pepper documentary (or reality show--who knows?) he's working on.  Hats are off to Lee, who accomplished a feat that I could not pull off.  Chile pepper history is a little more complete now.  This photo is circa 1909.  For related stories, go here.


World's Earliest Pit Barbecue?

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: science , history

Remains of a 31,000 year-old mammoth and her calf have been discovered in excavations in the Czech Republic, reports Jiri Svoboda, a professor at the University of Brno.  The meats were cooked luau-style underground.  Svoboda said, "We found the heating stones still within the pit and around."  He believes that the central roasting pit and the circle of boiling pits “was sheltered by a teepee or yurt-like structure."  The researchers also found many stone tools, such as spatulas, blades and saws, which were probably used to butcher the mammoths, which could weigh up to twelve tons.  This is the earliest evidence found so far that early man invented the techniques still used today in Hawaii to pit-roast whole hogs.  Contributing editor Mike Stines describes the technique in his article, here.

The whole hog luau.

In a related story, Neanderthals hunted mammoths and dried their flesh to make prehistoric jerky, reports Bent Sorensen, a researcher in the Department of Environmental, Social and Spatial Change at Roskilde University.  But, he said, "I do not know of any evidence for (them) using salt."  He believes that they boiled the meat first and then dried it.  "As for preparation, boiling is much more efficient and nutrient-conserving than frying, and evidence from more recent Stone Age settlements confirm that meat was boiled in ceramic pots or skin bags," he said. "However, it is still likely that frying over the camp fire was the usual method in Neanderthal communities, since no containers for boiling have been found."

Sonoma Organics, a division of Seco Spice Ltd. of  Berino, New Mexico, has announced the release of a new product to stabilize the heat levels of fiery foods products.  Until now, manufacturers have had to depend on imported, oil-based oleoresins, notes chemist Marlin Bensinger, who invented the process for making a water soluble chile extract.  The advantage of HydroCap is that it does not separate in water-based products such as salsas and hot sauces and does not change the flavor of the product.  Bensinger added that HydroCap is not designed to make superhot sauces but rather to be added to products of any heat level to increase or stabilize their heat levels as measured by the industry standard, Scoville Heat Units.  HydroCap is organic and kosher and is available in varying heat levels but most commonly 10,000 and 50,000 SHU with 100,000 SHU coming in the future.  For more information on HydroCap, send an email here.

Dateline Las Cruces, New Mexico.  For years, research done by New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute has helped promote New Mexico's State Vegetable (really a fruit).  Now, the Institute itself (and its chile peppers) is on the map, literally, as a "must-see" destination in Rand McNally's 2010 Road Atlas "Best of the Road" program.

"We are thrilled that Rand McNally recommends the Chile Pepper Institute in their atlas," said Paul Bosland, Institute director. "It's an honor to know that people traveling in New Mexico can see us on the map and enjoy our Institute along their way."

According to Rand McNally, the publication is America's No. 1 road atlas. It provides five Best of the Road trips along with trip-planning tools, from detailed maps to mileage charts. The 2010 atlas is now available in stores and from online retailers like Amazon, here.

"Every year, our editors seek out and drive some of the best, most scenic road trip routes in the nation to find our Best of the Road winners," said Rand McNally editorial director Laurie Borman. 

Part of the attraction of the Chile Pepper Institute is its Demonstration Garden, where some 150 varieties of chiles from around the world are grown each year to educate the public.  See our article, here.

The Chile Pepper Institute is one of a handful of stops identified in Rand McNally's trip through New Mexico. The 2010 Road Atlas provides five road trips in regions throughout states such as New York, Oregon and South Carolina. Each trip features photos, an inset map and other similar destinations that readers might enjoy.

The Institute gained fame for developing and promoting the 'Bhut Jolokia' chile variety, named by Guinness World Records as the Hottest Spice in the World.  Located in NMSU's Gerald Thomas Hall, the institute is part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.  See their website, here.

Full disclosure: Along with Dr. Paul Bosland, I was a founder of the Chile Pepper Institute.  My company is a sponsor of the New Mexico Chile Conference, hosted annually by the Institute.

On Saturday, June 27, 2009, the story made the front page of the Albuquerque Journal, and was featured in the Business section.

India Plans Jolokia Grenades

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Indian scientists will impregnate hand grenades with 'Bhut Jolokia' powder to immobilize but not kill people.  They say the devices will be used to control rioters and in counter-insurgency operations.  Scientists at India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) are quoted as saying the potent chilli will be used as a food additive for troops operating in cold conditions.  And the powder will also be spread on the fences around army barracks in the hope the strong smell will keep out animals.  Other forms of pepper spray are commonly used for crowd control in many parts of the world.

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