Chili peppers have been part of the human diet in the Americas since, 7500 B.C. The archaeological findings states that it was domesticated at least 6000 years ago. Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter it and called them ‘peppers’, because…he was pre disposed to this pungent flavor, through black peppers. In fact, he was set out on a mission to reach India, (particularly Malabar coast), for the quest of black pepper and other spices. Which was considered like gold in those days. And, it is widely believed that the spread of chilies in Asian countries was most likely a consequence of its introduction to Portuguese traders. However, K.T.Achaya cites numerous references that convinces us to think that chilies were present in India all along as a wild species.
Chilies are the fruits of the small nightshade shrubs. Like the other members of the family, they share the habit of stockpiling chemical defense. What’s interesting is, its aimed at mammals (that includes humans). Their active ingredient, the spectacular pungent chemical ‘capsaicin’, actually protects the seeds of it and acts as a repellent! So, birds consume the fruits and disperses the seeds unaltered from their system to distance locations as they fly and migrate. Thus, the chili species survives. Whereas, mammals tend to grind the seeds, and also happen to like this pungency! Do you think, we are winners? Go, kid yourself saying that! The plant’s wonderful trick once again proved itself quite successful. That, we have so much fallen in love with this anti-mammalian chemical and started to manipulate the chilies gene pool. Yep, we have started to breed, hybrid, gene-splicing and spread the species far and beyond to all the continents, than an average bird could have ever done. Now, don’t you think that chili has own us, after all.
Just How ‘Hot‘ Are My Chilies?
Chili Varieties and Pungency
Chilies pungency is rated in Scoville units, a measure invented around 1912 by pharmaceutical chemist Wilbur Scoville and that was later adapted to modern chemical analyses. The original method was crude but quite accurate. If you really care to know…it involves overnight alcohol extraction of the chilies and then a tasting of increased dilutions of the extract until the pungency is barely felt! The more the extract could be diluted, the more pungent it is and rated higher on the scale.
Personally, I have climbed on the scoville scale upto Habenero peppers. When my friend Tina gave me her home-grown innocent looking habenero peppers! I was thrilled to experiment!! Result?? Bad idea, bad idea. Well, she did warn me to wear gloves and use only tiny bit of it! However, thinking of my South Indian background…I thought I could handle. Later, I went nose bleeding profusely and plunged my palms in aloe vera gel. Not a good experience with Habernero.
© 2010 Malar Gandhi, All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Chili Peppers Heat Meter – Scoville Units
|Chili Peppers||Description||Scoville Scale
|Bell Peppers||These are the only chilies that do not produce capsaicin. So, treated more like a vegetable.||0||✓|
|Banana Peppers||Look pale green, long and tapering. Used for pickling and as pizza topping. In India, there is a recipe for fritters, very popular.||500||✓|
|Poblano||Green chilies that are extra large, used for grilling.||2000||✓|
|Anaheim||Looks like banana peppers, but comes in deep green color. The heat varies greatly||2500||✓|
|Fresno||These blunt, fleshy green or red chilies are great in chutneys and salsa.||5000||✓|
|Jalapeno||Large, fleshly green or rd chilies, great variety for pickling purposes.||5000||✓|
|Serrano||These are bullet shaped, green or red chilies||25000||✓|
|Cayenne||Long red chilies are dried and ground for culinary uses.||60000||✓|
|Thai Chilies||Bird’s eye chilies are so tiny, white and it turn red upon ripening.||100000||✓|
|Habanero||Small red, green, yellow or orange, these are one of the hottest of all variety. So tiny, but you will have wear gloves to chop them. And never use more than speck of it.||100,000 – 350,000||✓|
|Ghost||Looks fiery red, and alarmingly red.||850,000 – 1,000,000||✓|
|Naga Viper||One of the hottest on the record.||1359000||✓|