A spicy meal always makes pepper and spice lovers feel good! Scientists are beginning to suspect that a natural high is produced similar to the one after intense exercise. The euphoria is a result of the brain inducing the secretion of endorphins. Chiles contain more vitamin C than nearly any other fruit or vegetable. Another quality of spices and peppers is that they preserve the shelf-life of many types of foods.
To not confuse pod peppers from other types of peppers, the Mexican word “chile” will be used, though it also is a type of pod pepper. The American plural is spelled “Chillies”, but in Mexico it is “chiles”. Mexicans do not add the word “pepper” after the word “chile” or after the variety (e.g. jalapeno).
Hot or Not?
There are basically two classes of peppers; capsicum and non-capsicum, or pod and berry peppers. Capsicum peppers are pod peppers, and vary in size, shape and degree of hotness or amount of capsaicin, with the hottest having the greatest amount. It is these chiles that the Pepper Lovers Club members are so fascinated with. Capsaicin is derived from the Greek word “to bite”.
There are five domesticated varieties: Annuum, Frutescens, Chinese, Pubescens, and Baccatum. There are many undomesticated varieties. Non-capsicum peppers are berry peppers and are unrelated to the capsicum pepper.
Put out the Fire!
Capsaicin is the chemical that ignites the fire. Over 80% of the heat in the chile is contained in its veins, placenta and adjoining seeds. This is an oily substance, therefore, it is not water soluble (ergo: ice-water will not wash away any pain). However, as long as you hold your hands under cool running water, the pain is relieved somewhat, but returns once the water stops. Using water or other clear liquids such as soda or lager beer has been likened to putting out a fire with lighter fluid as it only assists in spreading the capsaicin.
The best soother is either something sweet, starchy or fatty…honey, jam, milk, yogurt, bread, rice, tortillas or anything deep-fried such as tortilla chips or the ultimate, sopapillas (deep-fried bread known in Albuquerque as early as 1620 and California in 1767) with honey.
Capsaicin was first isolated in 1877. To show you just how potent this oily substance is, did you know that…. 1 part in 1,000,000 causes a perceptible warmth on the tongue? 1 part in 100,000 causes a persistent burning on the tongue?
There are several ways in which you can reduce the heat of the chile: Remove the seeds, placenta and veins when using. Soak a fresh or dried chile in a solution of 3 parts mild vinegar to 1 part salt for 1 hour. Of course, the Pepper Lovers Club members believe that if enough beer is consumed, no one really cares how hot the chiles are!!!
Safety Tips when Handling Chiles
Don’t work with chiles without gloves. The hotter ones can blister your hands and putting your fingers around your face could result in a disaster you would have never imagined. Chiles should burn from the inside out, not the outside in. If you don’t heed our warning, you can try rinsing your hands in a mild bleach solution (1 part bleach to 5 parts water). It helps to render the capsaicin somewhat water soluble .