On the Mindful Eating of Spicy Peppers


Imagine you are picking up a tiny, shining red berry.


You slowly bring it to your lips, enjoying the way the light plays on its rich red color, wondering if something so small could ever provide an interesting taste sensation.

You take it into your mouth. Slowly, delicately, you press it against the roof of your mouth with your tongue, feeling how it pops a lot like caviar.

You gladly refrain from taking another, even as you are hungry, while your mouth starts burning wherever the fiery juice of the chiltepin travels. With an effort, you swallow, and the heat spreads ever farther, burning in the back of your mouth and making your eyes water. You very nearly get dizzy from the painful sensation, feeling like an explosion just shook your very physical foundations.

Then, you take another and start to really enjoy the food you eat with them.

I just came from reading the New York Times’ article “Mindful Eating as Way to Fight Bingeing,” and came away wondering how that would go with hot chile peppers – the article nearly goes there, mentioning how “eating mindfully doesn’t mean forsaking the hot sauce”. One version of that, in praise of my beloved chiltepin, is what you just read.

Really, though there are two different strands of thinking which the idea of mindful eating raises:

The way that chile peppers bring themselves to attention is only the one of them.
It is true; eat peppers and you will get used to them and want ever more – but still, there is always something hotter than what you’d ever want to try.

A superhot chile pepper is not a matter to be considered trifling in any way, but obviously would demand attention – either to be given to its careful consumption, or as the attention would simply be taken by the pepper when the pain hits, drowning out any thoughts other than those revolving around the “eating.”

Now, Buddhism may talk of the utter clarity of enlightened perception burning away all the illusions and attachments, but it’s rather not that strangely-literal-but-not kind of burning that was meant.

There is a very different, less tongue-in-cheek, line of thought connecting mindfulness and chilli – and the constant focus on the chile pepper’s burn is actually the main culprit distracting from it:

In reality, there is no chilli. Not in the way there is no spoon in The Matrix, but rather because there is always only the particular chilli/chillies you are consuming at a particular time.

Being of different lineages (varieties, landraces, seed lines…) and different conditions, their flavors and pungencies are going to be different. Of course – see above – if you eat too hot, you would be just too busy with the pain  to notice the difference much. However, from different levels and different kinds of pungency to different aromas, flavors, and textures, there is a whole world of experience awaiting the mindful eater of chile peppers.

From pleasant to punishing, from grassy-green to sugary-sweet, from lemony to apple-like to carrot-like to how-the-hell-should-I-know-I-can’t-even-think-anymore to the rich complexity of flavors in many a curry, and of tingling pain in good hot pot, a world awaits the eater, between Ancho and Zimbabwe Bird…


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