As you may know, when living in Mexico, you can add chile to nearly any dish you consume at breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and even dessert time! Chilies are a huge part of Mexican food culture, especially chile de arbol, also known as pico de pajaro (bird’s beak), which is a very important part of the food culture in the state of Jalisco.
Yahualica, in Jalisco, produces about half of the chile de arbol peppers that are sold throughout the entire country of Mexico. Chile de arbol is in fact one of Mexico’s most iconic chilies. This chile is related to the cayenne pepper as part of the Capsicum family, and contains amazing health promoting compounds which can be especially useful for lowering high blood pressure and promoting heart health.
I am sure you have heard of hypertension (high blood pressure), and I can guarantee you know someone with hypertension. Nearly half of all Americans suffer from hypertension, and this puts people at an increased risk for heart disease and heart related health issues. So, what really happens and how can chilies help?
Blood pressure is just that… pressure of blood that is pushing against the walls of your coronary arteries. These arteries are responsible for carrying your blood from the heart to other parts of the body to provide the body with essential nutrients and oxygen. It is normal for the pressure of your blood to rise and fall during the day, however, it is not normal for it to be high all the time.
What is high, you might ask? Hypertension is defined as having consistently high blood pressure on or over 140/90, with the gold standard being 120/80. The numbers are a measure of two things. The top number is called systolic blood pressure which measures the pressure of the blood in your arteries when your heart beats, whereas the bottom number is called diastolic blood pressure and measures the pressure of the blood in the arteries when your heart rests in between beats. The higher these two numbers, the higher the blood pressure, which puts you at an increased risk for issues such as heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Chile de arbol contains various compounds that are effective in assisting to lower high blood pressure, mainly due to the relaxing and dilating effects it has on the blood vessels. The heat components found in these chilies are called capsaicinoids. They have the ability to reduce platelet aggregation (which thickens blood, and can block vessels), can vasodilate (make the vessels larger for more blood to pass through), stimulate blood circulation, warm the body and reduce bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, thereby reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
In addition, chile de arbol is high in iron. Iron is important to the production of the protein hemoglobin, which transports oxygen to the body through the bloodstream. As well, being high in calcium, chile de arbol relieves stress on the blood vessels and arteries. And, lastly, chile de arbol contains significant amounts of Vitamins A and C that have amazing antioxidant effects which can help to protect damage in the blood vessels and to the heart.
When shopping for your own chile de arbol, the most common way they are sold is in a dried state. When the chile dries, it does appear to make them taste spicier, so watch out for the spice hit! However, for the purposes of heart health benefits, the best way to consume these chiles is fresh to retain more of the vitamins and antioxidants. Always choose chilies that are vine ripened, bright red in color with green stalks, and blemish free.
I have shared the ‘secret’ spicy salsa recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation. Adjust the chilies to your region (most you will find at local markets), and always add the chile de arbol!
ABUELAS SPICY SALSA
12 Chile de Arbol (fresh or dried)
6 Dried Canica Chiles
6 Small Dried Morita Chiles
2 Dried Cascabel Chiles
2 Small Dried Guajillo Chiles
3 Fresh Green Tomatillos
1 Large Garlic clove
Salt to taste
1-2 Tablespoons of Water
• Place all the chilies in a frying pan and dry roast on a medium heat, tossing the chilies so they get browned on all sides, however, ensure they do not burn. Remove from pan to cool.
• Place the green tomatillos in the fry pan and dry roast all sides to brown them well.
• Once all has been browned, place the chilies, tomatillos, garlic, a pinch of salt and a little water together into a blender. Blend well, adding more water if needed, until the salsa has a thick but smooth consistency.
Use this spicy salsa as a great addition to most meals, anything that requires a little spice kick!
Lonneke Botello Hernandez is a Clinical Nutritionist and Personal Trainer. With over ten years of clinical experience, she has helped countless people to enhance and improve their long term health and wellbeing, from weight loss to reducing disease and illness. If you would like to receive a personalized program to reach your health goals sooner, contact her via the Aslon Antiaging Clinic Facebook page or website. She welcomes you to visit her in Bucerias, Nayarit.