Taking advantage of the health benefits on the trail
In a radio interview Monday morning, Hillary Clinton was asked to name something she carries with her everywhere she goes. “Hot sauce,” she answered. “Yeah.”
The Clinton campaign has confirmed to TIME the type and brand of hot sauce now toted by the Democratic front runner for the presidential nomination: Ninja Squirrel, a Sriracha from the in-house brand of Texas-based Whole Foods Market. “And we continue to carry chili flakes and jalapeños around,” says Clinton campaign spokesperson Nick Merrill.
There is nothing new about Clinton’s devotion to chilies, though the comment lit up Twitter as an apparent reference to Beyoncé’s hit single “Formation” and its catchy condiment line, “I got hot sauce in my bag, swag.” Clinton was speaking to one of New York’s largest hip-hop and R&B stations, 105.1 FM’s the Breakfast Club, a morning radio show hosted by DJ Envy, Angela Yee and Charlamagne Tha God. (You can hear the interview here — the hot-sauce comment comes at about 25:00.)
Clinton’s official affection for hot sauce dates back decades. In 2008, she a December report by the Associated Press. In Monday’s radio interview, Clinton reiterated that her love of hot sauce is partly to do with its health benefits.60 Minutes her habit of regularly eating chilies to stay healthy goes back to 1992. At the White House in the 1990s, Clinton boasted a collection of more than 100 hot sauces, according to
“No seriously, hot sauce. I’ve been eating a lot of hot sauce. Raw peppers and hot sauce,” she said. “Because I think it keeps my immune system strong. I think hot sauce is good for you, in moderation.”
Clinton is right. Chilies are absolutely crammed with nutrients, including, as I write in my upcoming book Hot Sauce Nation, folic acid, and vitamins A, E and about six times as much vitamin C as an orange, all of which science indicates contribute to a strong immune system. Though some nutrients get lost in the processing of raw chilies, the chopping and smashing can actually help release some of the beneficial compounds, meaning hot sauce does more for chilies than ketchup does for tomatoes. A 2015 study of the health outcomes for about half a million Chinese adults found that people who ate spicy food every day or almost every day had a 14% decrease in mortality over the course of the study. The compounds in chilies can even help ease sinus troubles.
Hot sauce is spicy because of an odorless, tasteless group of chemical compounds in chilies called capsaicinoids, which cause pain without causing any actual tissue damage. Since eating hot sauce causes a little bit (and sometimes a lot) of pain, it triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller, which have an abundance of additional effects beneficial for anyone running for elective office. Endorphins lower stress and anxiety, can even impart a sense of euphoria and, yes, boost the immune system.
TIME asked the campaign of Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s Democratic rival in the New York primary Tuesday, if he also likes to feel the condiment burn. “His bold ideas are his hot sauce,” responded spokesman Michael Briggs.
— Additional reporting by Jay Newton-Small and Sam Frizell
Denver Nicks, a former TIME reporter, is the author of the upcoming book Hot Sauce Nation: America’s Burning Obsession, which will be published in October.