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Don’t spare the Chilli, it's probably good for you PDF Print Email

Chillies are good for you or so it seems!

 

Although not everyone’s cup of tea many people like a bit of chilli, certainly their popularity has grown massively over the decades as more international cuisine has arrived in the UK.  From a little bit of heat in a pasta to the bravado of a ordering the hottest phall curry after a few beers our liking for chilli has grown.  In fact the phall curry originated in the curry houses of Birmingham and is hotter than a vindaloo by using scotch bonnet or habanero chillies.  Anyone familiar with Caribbean cooking will recognise the scotch bonnet and be aware of the fire they can contain.


Anyone who has ever eaten a really hot chilli will be only too aware that they can cause a lot of pain.

They come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colours and of course, strengths, which is what causes the burning feeling in your mouth, and with hotter ones your eyes, hands and anything they touch.

 

The hottest part of a chilli is not the seeds but the white spongy layer inside.  The strength of a chilli, how much it will burn, is measured by something called the Scoville Scale, which measures in Scoville heat units. For example, a Bell pepper registers 0, paprika or pimento is 100 – 1000, Jalapeno 3500 – 10,000, Cayenne pepper 30,000 – 50,000, Scotch bonnet and Habanero or Birds Eye are 100,000 – 350,000.  That should be enough for the most ardent fans however, you can move up to the Naga Chilli, one of the hottest in the world with a Scoville score of more than 1.3m and the world record holder for hotness, the Carolina Reaper, first grown in Rock Hill, South Carolina.  This has an eye-watering score of between 1.5 to 2 million!  Never mind eating it, handle with asbestos gloves!

 

The burning sensation from eating chillies is mainly caused by a chemical called capsaicin which gets into your saliva and then binds on to receptors in your mouth and tongue.  The receptors are in fact actually there to detect the sensation of scalding heat and the capsaicin molecules happen to fit the receptors perfectly making your mouth feel like it is on fire because the receptors are sending a signal to your brain making it think your mouth is literally burning.

Chillies originally produced capsaicin to avoid being eaten by mammals but humans have learned to like or even love the burn they give.

 

When you eat a chilli your body releases adrenaline in response to the pain, your eyes may begin to water and heart rate increase.  If you tolerate biting some extremely hot chillies it is possible to experience a "chilli endorphin high". Endorphins are natural opiates that act as painkillers which are sometimes released in response to the chilli's sting. Like opiates they are said to induce a pervasive sense of happiness.


But are there any health benefits?


Researchers from the University of Vermont undertook a recent study where they looked at data from more than 16,000 Americans over an average of 18.9 years.

During the research time period, nearly 5,000 of them had died. Those who ate a lot of red hot chillies were 13% less likely to die during that period than those who did not.

 

Another study carried out in China found similar results. The researchers are not sure but suggest it may be that capsaicin is helping increase blood flow, or even altering the mix of your gut bacteria in a beneficial way.

 

Either way don’t hold back with the chilli as it won’t do any harm and at the very least release some endorphins to improve your mood.