The Heat of Chili Peppers

THE VARIED WORLD OF THE CAPSICUMS

Chili peppers are a member of nightshade family (solanaceae) in the capsicum genus. There are various types of capsicum that all have their own distinctive qualities and varied heat level. Generally speaking there are two separate types of pepper – sweet and hot.

HOW DOES CHILI DEVELOP ITS PIQUANCE

Capsaicin is a lipophilic chemical that creates a strong burning sensation when in contact with mucous membranes. The chili pepper family are the only plants capable of producing this irritable chemical.

The acid is produced in a ball of tissue that grows under the stem inside each chili pepper. The seeds and veins are attached. The hottest parts are found around the tissue especially in the top inch of each chili pepper so to reduce the strength it is advisable to remove all the inner tissue, seeds and veins.

It’s hot or spicy intensity comes from capsaicin and several related chemicals called capsaicinoids. They bind with pain receptors in the mouth and throat. As a result the body responds by raising heart rate, increased sweating and releasing endorphins.

WHAT CHILI PEPPERS AND CHOCOLATE SHARE

It is well known that capsaicin causes an endorphin reaction. Besides the chili pepper the only other ingredient that can do the same is chocolate.

When released in the body by vertebrates, endorphins serve various purposes other than giving a natural high. They are said to be painkillers, assist memory and reduce ageing. Chilis also encourage the appetite producing a craving to eat.

WHAT IS SCOVILLE SCALE?

Capsaicin is an oil-born acid that is quantifiable. The scoville scale is widely regarded as the definitive standard of Chili Peppers comparing. Basically it measures the pungency of chili peppers in SHU (scoville units) by taking an alcohol extract with capsaicin oil which has a mixture of sugar and water added to it. When there is no detectable chili this is the value given to each test. A main criticism of the scale is that it is totally subjective however it is still a good benchmark for how chili peppers compare.