Shrimp and watermelon salad plus a orzo salad with spinach, feta, mint and olives

Haven’t turned on that oven much lately, eh? No surprise.

Mint, and members of its botanical family, trick the body into feeling cool. (iStockphoto by Getty Images)

But despite the heat one scorching, sunny afternoon during a trip to Morocco some months ago, I was offered hot mint tea so that I could “cool off a bit.” What gave?

It turns out that certain foods and beverages, even though consumed at high temperatures, have a cooling effect on our bodies — or seem to do so.

While hot tea, for example, does raise the body’s core temperature (and iced tea lowers it), we humans regulate that core temperature in order to keep it a steady 98.6 degrees. In order to cool down the body’s heat, we just perspire more. And when that perspiration evaporates, we feel chill.

This heat swap is especially efficient in our dry, high desert plain or mountain air (like that in much of Morocco). Don’t try this trick in Southern or Midwestern midsummer humidity, but count your geographic blessings while here.

As for the mint in that Moroccan tea, it is super-chill. Going down the hatch, the organic compound menthol (redolent in the leaves of mint) triggers the same protein sensory receptors in the mouth as does cold temperature, say, while eating ice cream. In the case of both mint and cold that protein is TRPM8 (pronounced “trip M 8”). When we consume mint, it tricks our body into feeling cold although it isn’t. That’s why chocolate mint ice cream is a double powerhouse come August.

All plants related to mint do this, so come the dog days, heed the cooling effect of basil, tarragon, oregano, sage and thyme, all members of lamiaceae, or the mint family.

The reverse, in a manner of thinking, occurs with another protein sensory receptor that we have, TRPV1 (“trip V 1”). In this case, both capsaicin, the oil in chiles that makes them “hot,” and hot temperature trigger TRPV1. A bowl of green makes you perspire for two reasons, then, and, just like hot mint tea, is another way to cool off, oddly enough.

Other foods that cool are those that hydrate well. Athletes and their trainers long have known that certain fruits and vegetables, due to their extraordinarily high water content, reintroduce both that water as well as minerals and nutrients back into the body that have been lost during exercise. They are, in a sense, “better than” plain water at both hydration and cooling down.