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