Generally, I'm not a fan of hot or spicy foods. I'm OK with bell peppers or a sprinkle of cayenne in tomato sauce or on a meat dish, but, otherwise, I can't remember the last time I bought a pepper from a farmers market.
When I first planned our garden for Dr. Cowan’s Garden, I penciled in about 20 pepper plants, thinking that would be enough. I showed it to José, who was helping us in the garden at the time and comes from a small town in Mexico. He frowned and said, “You must plant more chilis. At home, we say if you take care of the chilis, the chilis will take care of you. It’s an insult to plant only 20 plants.”
I relented and planted two full beds, about 400 various heirloom pepper plants. Late that summer, when we made our first Pepper Salt from a mix of those peppers, I was astonished. It might sound like a slight exaggeration, but it was one of the best things I ever ate, and it made everything we added it to taste better. I finally had a glimpse of what all the fuss about peppers was about.
I gave a jar to a friend who is a professional chef and runs a catering operation. Her response was, “if you can reproduce this exact jar, you should drop everything and just make Pepper Salt.” I was convinced we were on to something, but I also knew that recreating that exact formula would not be easy. The problem is, the peppers don’t ripen at the same time, so it’s a kind
of higher-math equation (at least, for me) to figure out when to plant the different varieties to have them ready to harvest at the same time. Now, in our third year of growing a significant amount of peppers, while not perfect, we have mostly figured out that formula. It’s a blend of about two parts hot peppers to one part sweet. And we use two parts pepper powder to one part Celtic sea salt.
It turns out peppers are not just full of flavor; they also have amazing medicinal properties. It’s fairly well known that adding pepper to any food increases the nutrient absorption from that food, particularly turmeric. What’s less well known is that the active ingredient in peppers, the thing that gives peppers their heat — capsaicin — decreases pain, reduces inflammation and is a significant source of anti-oxidants.
Research published in the journal Future Oncology showed that regular consumption of foods containing capsaicin decreases the incidence of prostate cancer. Another report showed that the regular consumption of peppers lowers average blood sugars and decreases the tendency to develop metabolic syndrome, so common to modern Americans.
At this point, I add our Pepper Salt to almost every savory dish I eat. To me, it is the most flavorful product in our line. We share a couple of delicious recipes below, but my advice is to experiment and add it to just about anything. I hope you agree that, somehow, almost magically, its flavor is enhanced.
Tom Cowan, M.D.