Thursday, August 12, 2004
Does Tabasco Sauce Aid Digestion, As Ads of Bygone Days Claimed?
By ROGER M. GRACE
A 1903 ad in Cosmopolitan Magazine proclaimed that McIlhenny’s Tabasco Sauce “Insures Good Digestion.” [Click to view]
In a 1905 edition of that magazine, an advertisement represented that the condiment “[s]timulates the stomach and insures good digestion.” [Click to view]
Advertisements to that effect no longer appear, and haven’t for nearly 100 years.
“I think we stopped making such claims early in the 20th century, perhaps after the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 or some such legislation,” Shane K. Bernard, historian/curator for the McIlhenny Company, advised.
“We definitely do not make any medical claims today about Tabasco sauce.”
Ironically, such claims, though they apparently couldn’t be substantiated when uttered, might well be susceptible today to persuasive medical proof. Other health benefits, not trumpeted by McIlhenny either in the past or present, might likewise be demonstrable.
Tabasco Sauce is the juice of mashed Tabasco peppers, combined with vinegar and salt, aged in wooden casks for three years. Those peppers, like all chilies, are the fruit of a “capsicum” plant. “Capsaicin” is an alkaloid in peppers—the one that causes them to be hot.
While the folks on Avery Island in Louisiana proclaim their product merely to be a flavor enhancer, others point to health benefits seemingly bestowed by it as the result of its capsaicin base.
Corroborating the long-abandoned claim that Tabasco Sauce aids digestion, the Southern Illinois University website comments:
“Capsaicin...stimulates the actions of the muscles of the stomach and intestine, which improves digestion and makes chili peppers an attractive condiment for a food that might upset the stomach.”
A June 11, 2002 health column in Newsday—a Long Island, N.Y. newspaper owned by the Tribune Co. (as the L.A. Times is)—recited this question from a reader:
“My brother-in-law is addicted to hot peppers. He loves salsa and puts Tabasco [sauce] on everything. I can’t figure out how he avoids heartburn. Spicy foods give me indigestion, but he maintains that hot peppers are good for the stomach. How could that be?”
This answer was provided:
“Italian researchers wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine (March 21) reporting that red pepper powder in capsules reduced stomach ache, fullness and nausea by 60 percent. In comparison, a look-alike placebo reduced these symptoms by half as much.
Cornell University, on a website providing resources for science teachers, advises:
“It was once believed that capsaicin could burn out the lining in the stomach and cause ulcers. But this has been disproved. Studies have shown that low concentrations of the chemical can prevent stomach ulcers in rats and in humans. Researchers have found that capsaicin increases secretion in the stomach but does no harm. Ironically capsaicin is now used to relieve digestive distress.”
Here’s another tribute to capsicum as a digestive aid:
“When taken internally, capsicum is a powerful stimulant producing when swallowed in small doses, a sensation of warmth in the stomach, and a general glow over the whole body; hence in moderation it is very useful as a condiment....Taken in this way, it promotes digestion, and prevents flatulence.”
That comes from “Medicinal Plants” by Robert Bentley and Henry Trimen, a book published in London in 1880.
While the McIlhenny Company might have concluded in the early 1900s that it was simply not up to proving its health claim, it’s clear that the claim was not without longstanding support.
According to a report by the BBC, chili peppers have been used as a digestive aid “[s]ince ancient times.”
Other medical benefits which some see in the ingestion or topical application of Tabasco Sauce will be discussed in future columns.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company
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