Fresh Chillies are high in Vitamin C — twice the amount found in citrus fruits. When dried the Vitamin A content increases as much as one hundred fold. Hot chillies e.g. ‘Habanero’ contain 357% more Vitamin C than an orange. Red chillies are a good source of beta carotene.
The bite in chilli is called Capsaicin. Most of the capsaicin is contained in the seeds and the membrane which when removed makes the chilli milder.The burning feeling that you are left with on your tongue is caused by the relief of Capsaicin. This causes messages to be sent to your brain to release endorphins which are your body’s natural pain killer. The endorphins then give you the feeling of relief and pleasure. The release of endorphins lowers the blood pressure, a major indicator in heart disease, and has even been implicated in the fight against cancer.
Chilli is mildly antibacterial and is an excellent gargle for sore throats and laryngitis. In Victorian England, chilli peppers were prized for their warming properties in treating arthritis, chills, rheumatism, sprains and depression.
Chillies have been used to repel garden pests, to stop barnacles on boats, as an aphrodisiac and as a cure for sore throats and varicose ulcers.
The Scoville scale was developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912, to measure the heat level in chillies. It was first a subjective taste test, but since, it has been refined by the use of HPLC, the unit is named in honour of its inventor.
Today it can be done more accurately with the help of computers to rate the peppers in Scoville units, which indicate parts per million of capsaicin. The fiery sensation of chillis is caused by capsaicin, a potent chemical that survives both cooking and freezing, but apart from the burning sensation it also triggers the brain to produce endorphins, natural painkillers that promote a sense of well being.
The Scoville scale begins at zero with mild bell peppers and moves to the lower range of peppers measuring 1,500 to 2,500 such as pasillas – four out of ten. The Jalapeño is mid range at about 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville units. The eight out of ten chillis such as cayenne rate about 30,000 to 50,000 units, while the habernero which rates as one of the hottest comes somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000+ units.