Only recently was I introduced to this five ingredient sauce, but I already know this sauce and I will be together forever. Why you ask?
- It is versatile. The first time I was introduced to it, it was being served with scallion pancakes as the dipping sauce. Here I pour it over pasta. And of course I look forward to marinating some chicken with it one of these afternoons to throw on the grill.
- It is so simple to make and if you frequently cook with Asian flavors, it is likely you already have all the ingredients on hand.
- The flavor combination is just perfect! The garlic, chili, and sesame work wonderfully together.
What gives chili its characteristic pungency or burning sensation in the mouth is a lipohilic chemical called capsaicin. There are two theories on why capsaicin may have evolved in chilies: 1) as a defense from mammals, and 2) as a defense against fungi. When mammals eat the chili fruit, the seeds are ground up by molars, and after passing through the digestive tract the seeds are no longer able to germinate. Birds do not have the necessary proteins to respond to capsaicin and generally swallow the seeds whole, which are then still able to germinate after passing through the avian digestive tract. In this manner, birds are a mechanism through which the plant disperses its seeds. With respect to the second theory, there is a fungus, Fusarium, which can infect chili plants, resulting in wilting of the plant, which in turn affects fruit production and reduces viability of the seeds. This fungus is deterred by capsaicin.
Chili plants were domesticated over 5000 years ago in South America (Harold McGee). After Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, the plants quickly spread throughout the world, and today are common in traditional cuisines all over the world. Chilies belong to the genus Capsicum and there are 5 species within this genus which have been domesticated, although most chilies that one can find at the supermarket are derived from only a single species, Capsicum annuum. Through breeding, the pungency of chilies can be altered, and some have been bread to be mild enough to eat as vegetables. All unripe chilies are green, and during the ripening process they obtain their characteristic colors from yellow to red, orange, and purple.