When I first became afflicted with chronic illness – around sixteen years ago- I completely lost my tolerance for garlic and chili. Previously I enjoyed eating spicy food but practically overnight I lost my ability to eat these foods without negative consequences on my health.
Doing so led to digestive and gallbladder discomfort including debilitating nausea lasting for hours. It also triggered my already extreme insomnia so that I would be unable to sleep at all for the entire night. Essentially my system was so sensitive that these strong seasonings exacerbated many of the symptoms I was already struggling to deal with.
It wasn’t that I lost my taste for chili but my body rebelled whenever I consumed these foods. So eventually I learned to go easy on the spice so as to avoid any consequent discomfort. As you might imagine it can be difficult living in South-East Asia without eating at least some spicy food on occasion – so over the years I found my level of tolerance, which has been pretty low.
However, since being in Thailand for the last few months, I’ve once again discovered the joys of spicy food! I suspect this is probably because I’ve been doing a fair amount of cleansing over the last several years leading to general improvement in my health. With a bit of experimentation I’ve come to realize that I now do very well with fresh chili – even in quite large amounts. I still have to be careful with roasted or dried chili and raw garlic remains off the list for me, but it is fantastic to be able to enjoy the spicy flavor profile again after so many years of restriction.
Living in the tropics it makes sense to eat chilies on a regular basis. Chili has been documented to have antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-parasitic effects. In a warm and humid environment microbial exposure is always something to protect yourself from.
The capsaicin component in chillies also helps thin nasal mucous and clear the sinuses, relieving upper respiratory congestion. This can be helpful for those of us with lymphatic blockages in the head and upper body region.
However, it is possible to have too much chili, which can produce irritation both in the upper respiratory lining as well as in the intestines. If you’ve ever had a really spicy meal you may have experienced that burn on the way out! So caution is certainly advised if you have a sensitive digestive system or conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or colitis.
The type of chili that we have predominantly been using are Thai bird’s eye chili. They are most definitely spicy but also offer a complex flavor profile. In Thailand this variety of chili is very common, especially in salads and as an everyday table condiment. They measure around 100,000–225,000 Scoville units, which is lower than habanero chili but still many times more spicy than a jalapeño.
Lujan and I have come to realize that these tiny, yet power-packed, chilies are also quite addictive. Lately, whenever we have the opportunity we include chili in our meals and we’ve developed a strong appreciation for the flavors of Thai food. I’ve even started adding fresh chili to smoothies and green salads!
No doubt this addictive quality has to do with the ability of capsaicin to trigger an endorphin reaction, which basically results in a feel-good “high” sensation. After a spicy meal with these fresh chilies I notice that I feel more awake and experience a significant boost in my mood.
Generally endorphins are only produced during intense physical exercise, sexual activity or with acupuncture treatment. When released in the body they work as natural pain killers, much in the same way as opiates. Endorphins can also enhance memory, reduce appetite and can support the production of sex hormones. Apart from chili the only other food that has been discovered to promote endorphin production is chocolate. However, the effects of capsaicin are even stronger than cacao.
The Thais love to balance their flavors with spicy, salty, sour and sweet elements. When it comes to eating fruit this is no exception. Prepared fruits are often sold with a little bag of chili salt or a spicy dipping sauce.
This fruit salad recipe, as far as I know, is not traditionally Thai. It is very similar to a Malaysian dish called “Rojak”.
I used the fruits that were available in the market: a combination of pineapple, dragonfruit, rose apple, pomelo and pomegranate. Unless you are in South-East Asia you probably won’t have access to all of these so I suggest you use any type of fruit that is firm and slightly acidic. Here are some possibilities:
Green or red apple
For best results avoid any fruits that are very soft and sweet like ripe mangoes and bananas. You want firm, crisp and crunchy specimens only!
- 2 cups fruit, chopped into small cubes
- 1-5 Thai bird's eye chilies (depending on your tolerance for heat), sliced
- 1-2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon coconut palm sugar
- 1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
- 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped (optional)
- Dash of Himalayan salt
- Prepare the dressing by combining palm sugar, lime juice, salt and chilies in a medium mixing bowl.
- Add chopped fruit, mint and cilantro and toss everything together.
- Taste and adjust the lime, sugar, salt and chili according to your preference.
- Serve immediately.
Let me know if you try this different approach to fruit salad. I’d love to hear what you think!
I’m also interested to hear how you feel about spicy food and any connections you have noticed between chili, garlic and your health. We are all unique and these powerful plants can affect us very differently and our response can change over time.
For me, I am happy to be able to enjoy a little more spice in my life once again!