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Food for Thought Jalapenos next to a ruler| “Everything you never cared to know”

You cannot tell how spicy a chile pepper is based on it’s color. Size is another story though – usually, the smaller the pepper, the hotter it is. Also, placing it in your mouth and chewing is another great indicator.

Everyone (who is awesome) knows that tomatoes are not vegetables, but actually fruits. The same is true for the pepper – the distinguishing factor being the seeds, of course, botanically speaking.

In England, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia, the chile pepper is referred to as just “chilli”.

Archaeological evidence from SW Ecuador places the chile pepper as having been cultivated some 6,000 years ago.

The irritating ingredient that gives chile peppers their sting is called capsaicin [cap-say-suhn]. Capsaicin is the primary ingredient in pepper spray. I happen to know a little bit about this irritation from first-hand experience. I recall the time I was eating at a pizzeria in Austria with my husband and brother-in-law. I touched my tongue to a jalapeno, “just to see what it feels like“. Shortly after, I rubbed the side of my eye. Then, of course, it was only shortly after that that my eye immediately formed a scab and began burning like I was on fire. I ran to the bathroom to wash it, but it was pretty much too late. Thank god it wasn’t a habanero pepper. The sting wore off the next day.

The “heat” that peppers possess is typically measured in Scoville units, which is a measure of how much a chili extract must be diluted in sugar syrup before its heat becomes undetectable to a panel of tasters.

In February of 2012, the new Guiness winner was crowned with a Scoville rating of 2 million. It is called the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, which even sounds bad-ass. To put this into perspective, jalapenos have a Scoville rating of up to 8,000 and the habanero is measured at around 100,000. The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion rating is the same as law enforcement grade pepper spray.

Animals do not have the same sensitivity to capsaicin. It is used to deter squirrels from bird feeders, but birds are not affected by it in the same way because it targets a different pain receptor found in mammals. If only I could find a way to turn off this pain receptor in my head; I could make millions using it as a bar trick.

Chiles have a special place in my heart, as they are the typical spice used in Hungarian cooking, aka paprika. It is made from a very mild red pepper which is dried and then ground into a fine powder. We have a couple pounds of the family’s homemade paprika in our freezer at all times. This spice is the reason why almost every traditional Hungarian dish is orange.

Milk products are best to drink after eating chilies because casein, a protein, breaks the bond between the pain receptors and the capsaicin.

And last but not least, here is my favorite video of someone eating a hot pepper.