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Featured: Red Peppers: Spice Up, Slim Down

Looking to boost your metabolism in the never-ending battle of the bulge?

Bathing suit season is upon us, and that means crunch time for any slimming regimen. While there are plenty of websites that boast of the metabolism-boosting powers of different foods, few have actually been scientifically verified quite as well the red chili pepper. Red peppers, part of the capsicum family, contain a compound called capsaicin, which is what’s responsible for their pungent heat. (Note: Red peppers are not to be confused with mild red bell peppers, which genetically lack the spicy capsaicin compound!) Researchers have been looking at the capsaicin in red peppers (and dried red pepper flakes) for years to understand its role in boosting metabolism and aiding in weight loss. Good news for dieters and healthy eaters out there: consuming red peppers works towards weight maintenance by increasing both fat metabolism and carbohydrate metabolism. So whether you carbo-load or carbo-restrict, you may benefit from adding red peppers to your diet.

From multiple studies that have documented red peppers’ effects, the general daily dosage administered (i.e. eaten) runs around 10 grams. This equates to 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh red pepper or about ¼ to ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes. Red pepper flakes are cheap and keep for several months in the cupboard, so it is wise to keep a jar on hand for everyday usage. Cayenne is red pepper in the powdered form, so it is extremely powerful, concentrated stuff. Only a fraction is needed to get the same spice and benefits of red pepper, so don‘t get too cayenne-happy or you might end up with a mouthful of flames.

Red pepper flakes can be thought of as salt, pepper or sugar — they are an excellent flavor enhancer that can be used in savory and sweet dishes alike. Just a pinch can lift otherwise bland flavors, and when cooked in anything with fat, such as olive oil, butter, or cream, the  volatile compounds are more readily released and the flavors become rounder and more cohesive in the overall dish. This is one reason why red pepper flakes work so well in sautéed pasta sauces and creamy dishes. While you can certainly add bits of red pepper flakes to every ordinary meal, here are some extraordinary ways to try them out:

  • Add 1/2 teaspoon cayenne or 1 tsp flakes to your standard brownie mix.
  • Sauté a large pinch of red pepper flakes in olive oil with garlic and fresh chopped tomatoes. Toss with warm pasta and top with grated cheese.
  • Add red pepper flakes to any heavy cream sauce, especially with pastas or meats.
  • Red pepper flakes meld naturally with other Asian flavors like sesame oil, soy sauce, and ginger.

Feeling enticed to learn more? Try out these unusual (but healthy!) dessert recipes that highlight red pepper flakes. Spice up, eat up, and slim down.

Spiked Chocolate Mousse (dairy-free, too!)
Makes 4 servings.


Ingredients:

½ cup chocolate soy or hemp milk
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
10 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (about 2 cups)
12 ounces silken tofu (the kind that comes in a small non-refrigerated box)
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Procedure:

  1. Place milk and pepper flakes in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook over a gentle simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to prevent burning or overflowing (milk will bubble up), then remove from heat and let steep 10 minutes covered. Strain.
  2. Place strained milk back into saucepan and add chocolate chips. Over lowest heat possible, melt chocolate chips, stirring constantly to prevent chocolate form burning. Increase heat in the smallest of increments as needed to completely melt chocolate chips, stirring the whole time.
  3. Using a spatula, scrape melted chocolate mixture into a blender or food processor. Add tofu and vanilla extract and blend until smooth. Chill for an hour, or until cold. Serve topped with a sprinkling of chocolate chips and red pepper flakes.

Spiced Hot Cocoa
Makes about 2 cups.

Ingredients:
2 cups organic whole, soy, or hemp milk
3 tablespoons agave or honey
1 1-inch piece peeled fresh ginger OR ½ teaspoon dried ginger
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Procedure:

  1. In a small saucepan, combine milk, sweetener, ginger, and red pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and steep 10 minutes.
  2. Strain out ginger and red pepper flakes, whisk cocoa and vanilla into milk, and serve. Reheat to desired temperature as needed. Delicious served with spice-cooling whipped cream.

Spiced Coconut Macaroons
Makes about 20 macaroons.

Ingredients:
3 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
1/3 cup raw cane sugar
1 cup coconut milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon almond extract, optional
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon sea salt

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix coconut flakes and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk coconut milk and egg. Add to coconut flakes, along with almond extract, red pepper, and salt; mix until even.
  3. Drop by spoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheet and bake until lightly golden around the edges, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool and serve.

Editor's Note: Have a question or comment? Leave a message in the comments below.

Anna HewittWhether sewing, planting seeds, or in the kitchen, Anna loves to create. She spends lots of time in the kitchen making as much as possible from scratch. When not baking, canning, or fermenting, she sews bags, aprons, and other items inspired by the kitchen and the garden (www.seedlingdesign.net). She often feels torn between finding some land to put down roots and taking the opportunity to travel and see more of the world. For now she eagerly explores her new surroundings in the mid-west and schemes about how to see more. Anna writes and shares recipes on her blog (roadtothefarm.blogspot.com).

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