Wiith some 400 different varieties of chillies in the Capsicum family, it's one of the world's most widely cultivated crops

07 Nov 2009

Originally a native of Mexico, where people started using a wild variety as long as 9 000 years ago, we can thank the Spaniards and Portuguese for introducing the chilli to the rest of the world.

Today every country uses some type of hot spice to excite the appetite, whether as a table condiment like pepper or peri-peri sauce, or as an ingredient in the cooking process itself.
Aficionados claim hot chillies awaken the taste buds, making them more sensitive to subtle flavours. The heat comes from capsaicin (pronounced cap-SAY-a-sin), a substance that produces endorphins, natural painkillers that promote a sense of well being.

With so many varieties available, it makes sense that 100 years ago German scientist Wilbur Scoville developed a method for measuring the strength of capsicum.
The Scoville scale begins at zero with mild bell peppers and moves to 2 500 to 5 000 Scoville units for Jalapeno and Chipolte chillies; between 30 000 to 50 000 for lip removers like Cayenne, Aji and Piquin, and somewhere between 100 000 and 500 000 units for the hot-as-hell Habernero. The hottest chilli on earth is said to be the Indian Tezpur, scoring some 855 000 Scoville units of pure capsaicin.

Chillies are also good for the body, they're high in vitamins A and C, a good source of potassium, folic acid and vitamin E, they help burn calories by stimulating the metabolic rate, aid digestion and help prevent heart disease and blood clots.

Now that you know a little more, get yourself a "chilli farm" from your nearest nursery, and get cultivating and cooking. Remember, if you over do it and scorch your taste buds, don't douse the flames with water, which will only spread the burn. Rather have some milk or ice cream: dairy products contain casein, a protein that can break down the capsaicin oils. And wash your hands with hot, soapy water before picking up the baby.

Ten things to do with chillies

Bhajias (chilli bites)

Chiles en nogada (Chillies in walnut sauce)

Chocolate chilli glaze

Asia-styled lemongrass and chilli chicken salad

Baked fish with chilli and ginger

Capsicum relish

Chilli jam

Lime and chilli chickpeas

Arroz a la Mexicana (Mexican red rice)

Avocado and chilli soup


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