Hot stuff

Feel the burn and then sit back and reap the feel-good re­wards

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

Videos of chilli-eat­ing com­pe­ti­tions abound on­line, and they make com­pelling view­ing. At the start of the Bath Chilli Eat­ing Com­pe­ti­tion, ev­ery­one is munch­ing down chill­ies as if they are crisp, sweet ap­ples. By about round 10 (of 14 rounds) mas­cara is run­ning, and peo­ple are huff­ing and gasp­ing and fall­ing like flies. By round 11 there is just a hand­ful of com­peti­tors still in the game. One of these ap­pears pos­i­tively non­cha­lant as she downs the Dorset Naga (960,000 Scov­ille Units or SHU). Still to come are the Peach Ghost Scor­pion (about a mil­lion SHU), the Naga Viper — a red chilli about the size of a fat thumb that packs a punch of 1.3 mil­lion SHU — and the Carolina Reaper, con­sid­ered the world’s hottest chilli at just un­der 1.6 mil­lion SHU.

There are var­i­ous meth­ods used to mea­sure the pun­gency lev­els of dif­fer­ent chill­ies but the Scov­ille Scale re­mains the most widely used. The greater the num­ber of Scov­ille units, the hot­ter the pep­per.

To put this in per­spec­tive, the ser­rano chilli way back in round four has just 15,000 SHU. If I am mak­ing a curry or a spicy dress­ing I might add a quar­ter or at most half a ser­rano in the en­tire dish to give it a spicy kick.

Why you, may ask, why would any­one put them­selves through this? Some of these chill­ies are so hot you need to han­dle them with gloves or you will blis­ter your skin.

Cut open a chilli and you’ll see the whiteish mem­brane that at­taches the seeds to the in­side of the fruit. This is the lo­ca­tion of the spice’s se­cret weapon, and the source of all the heat — cap­saicin. Cap­saicin is a class of com­pound called a vanil­loid. Oth­ers in­clude vanillin, present in vanilla and the woods used to age wine; eugenol, present in bay leaves, all­spice and cloves; and zingerone, which gives both ginger and mus­tard their dis­tinct flavours.

The early Mayans used chill­ies as a weapon, burn­ing rows of them to cre­ate a sting­ing smoke­screen. Chill­ies are used to numb toothache pain and as an anal­gesic.

They are rich in an­tiox­i­dants and vi­ta­mins, and are a pow­er­ful anti-mi­cro­bial, killing or in­hibit­ing 75 per cent of food-borne pathogens.

When you eat chill­ies your brain re­acts as if your body has un­der­gone ex­treme shock or stress and re­leases en­dor­phins. The hot­ter the chilli, the big­ger the hit of en­dor­phins re­leased. So, next time you’re feel­ing a lit­tle stressed or grumpy, whip up some­thing su­per spicy, be pre­pared to suf­fer a good sweat and a burst of painful heat and then lie back on the sofa and wait for those cruisy en­dor­phins to kick in and chill you out.

Make this week’s recipes now, while chill­ies are plen­ti­ful and cheap.

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