There are three basic groups of peppers: bell, sweet, and hot. People all over the world eat them in one form or another. Some eat for them the flavour, some eat them for the challenge and many for a combination of the two.
I am going to focus here on the hot variety and just why they are so.
Peppers are hot because they contain a chemical called capsaicin and related chemicals called capsaicinoids. Capsaicin acts by binding with nerve receptors generally used to transmit heat and heat-related pain in the body. The higher the capsaicin content the hotter the pepper.
Scoville Heat Unit
In 1912 a chemist named Wilbur Scoville invented a scale to measure the heat of peppers. To this day pepper heat is measured in the Scoville Heat Unit. Bell and sweet peppers have zero Scoville units since they have no capsaicin. Jalepeno peppers measure from 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville units and the pepper that I mistakenly planted this year, the Bhut Jolokia chili pepper or ghost pepper, which holds the distinction of being the world’s hottest chili pepper, measures 1,001,304 Scoville.
Back to capsaicin. It’s a flavourless and odourless substance found on the inside flesh of peppers. The experience of heat happens when the chemical binds to receptors that are made to respond to pain and heat in the throat and mouth. This tricks the brain into thinking that your mouth is on fire, causing your body to fight the “heat” by boosting your metabolism (increasing circulation) and cooling via perspiration.
After the brain gets this heat alert it sends out the cooling troops to neutralize and remove the heat. These troops work to increased circulation by initiating cooling perspiration and reactions like a runny nose and teary eyes.
A chilli pepper’s spicy heat comes from the seeds so removing them minimizes the heat.
A chilli pepper’s spicy heat comes from the pith and ribs of the pepper, not the seeds.
The seeds may be coated with some of the capsaicin because they are in contact with the rib. But the seeds themselves don’t actually contain any heat.
The ribs contain a good deal of the capsaicin heat but the flesh itself contains a good amount of heat as well.
So why can some people beat the heat while others suffer the fire?
There are 3 reasons proposed to answer this question.
1. Less Capsaicin Detecting Receptors
This theory states that some people inherit fewer of the capsaicin-detecting receptors that line your mouth and throat, making them less sensitive to hot peppers.
2. Training our heat receptors
An associate professor at the Culinary Institute of America, William Phillips, pointed out that people in some parts of the world such as Mexico or India naturally have higher tolerance for spicy food because they begin eating them at a very young age.
This receptor training desensitizes a person to capsaicin over time so they actually perceive less burn from capsaicin.
3. Thrill Seekers Love the Burn
This is interesting. There was a study done in 2012 that showed sensation-seeking individuals are more likely to like spicy food. The researchers found that people who are more open to new experiences and enjoy thrill-based activities, think roller coaster and rock climbing, tend to enjoy spicy food even if the immediate sensation is unpleasant.
Nadia Byrnes, one of the researchers stated that “Biologically, spice creates a sensation in the mouth that the brain interprets as burning or being on fire. When your body realizes there’s no real danger, it begins to interpret the sensation as a ‘thrill’ similar to gambling or riding roller coasters.”
Why are peppers healthy?
Hot peppers are healthy and here is why:
On top of being “hot,” capsaicin has been shown to be anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-diabetic.
Peppers are a rich source of vitamin C. They also contain antioxidants like vitamin A and also B-complex vitamins like vitamin B-6 and B-1.
Chillies have a good amount of minerals like magnesium, potassium, iron, and manganese.
There are countless ways to incorporate hot peppers in to your diet. Your first decision however is to determine what types of peppers pack just the right amount of heat for you.
Hot Pepper Oil
Here is a handy dandy way to use hot peppers.
Is it a recipe? Not sure but here is how it goes.
In a glass jar with a lid (I use 125ml one) cut up a a few peppers (I use 2-3 different types usually) enough to fill about half of the jar.
Fill the jar with a very good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil making sure all pepper are covered. Put the lid on the jar and let it sit for at least one day before using it.
This condiment is great on just so many dishes.