You know all about this red plant? Don’t worry! Through this article we will discover its origin and distinguishing characteristics, how to use chili pepper, its properties and benefits, but also its contraindications. Following we will focus on one of its most famous characteristics, the spicy taste, and to finish a few fun facts!
Chili pepper, in Latin Capsicum annuum, is an annual plant belonging to the family of Solanaceae, the same of potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes and tobacco. Native to the American continent, it was brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus, back from his second trip in the New World.
Characteristics of chili pepper.
The chilli has an erect stem, white flowers and elongated fruits that during the growth phase pass from green to yellow to bright red. The peculiarity of the fruit is the spiciness on the palate, characteristic given by the capsaicin, an alkaloid present inside it in varying concentrations depending on the species considered.
In addition to the spicy taste, capsaicin is a rubefacient substance, that is able to stimulate and increase blood flow. The typical spicy flavour makes chili an ideal spice in the kitchen to season and flavor our recipes. But being very rich in active ingredients, chili pepper use is also famous in topical preparations to counter arthritis and muscle pain.
Its fruit contains vitamins (C, E, K, B, A), mineral salts including calcium, copper and potassium, carotenoids, bioflavonoids and lecithin. In particular, chili is rich in vitamin C: 100 grams of this spicy fruit contain 229 milligrams against 50 of orange!
Chili pepper use is helpful as natural remedy that stimulates blood circulation, counteracts the onset of bacteria, lowers cholesterol and activates metabolism.
The main benefits of chili are:
-improving blood circulation;
-promoting intestinal motility;
-reducing blood cholesterol;
-being antioxidant, antibacterial and antihistamine;
-stimulating the vitality of the tissues;
-activating the metabolism.
The chili pepper use is also advantageous because capsaicin stimulates some receptors, including those of the tongue, which make us feel the typical spicy flavour, as we will see, but also acts on those located at the level of brown adipose tissue, the so-called Bat. This tissue has the function of releasing fat in the form of heat. The intake of chili, in fact, makes us feel a sensation of heat, which does not correspond to a real rise in body temperature.
By activating the Bat receptors, capsaicin is able to release fat cells in the form of energy and temperature, instead of storing them as stocks…and not only. Capsaicin, in fact, is able to decrease the secretion of Grelin, a pancreatic hormone responsible for the hunger sensation. In this way, the appetite signal is weakened, and we are led to ingest less food.
Contraindications of chili pepper use.
Due to the numerous health properties, the consumption and in any case the excessive chili pepper use can be irritating for the gastric mucosa. Therefore, it is not recommended to use it in case of ulcer, gastroenteritis, cystitis, hepatitis, haemorrhoids. Moreover, children under 12 and pregnant women should limit their consumption.
The famous spicy taste.
As we have seen, the spicy taste is conferred to the chili from the capsaicin, substance that is found in all parts of the fruit. Contrary to what is commonly believed, capsaicin is not concentrated only in the seeds, but is mainly found in the so-called placenta, the white inner membrane to which the seeds are attached. It is also contained in discrete quantities in filaments and seeds. The placenta, as well as the seeds and their filaments, is located around the head of the fruit. For this reason, the tip of the chili is less spicy than the top.
There are more than 3 thousand varieties of chili, each with a different degree of spiciness. To measure its specific level, an empirical scale of value is used, the so-called Scoville scale, from the name of the chemist who invented it.
This scale goes from 0 to 10 degrees. The Scoville (SU) units measure the amount of capsaicin present inside the fruit and it is calculated on a scale ranging from 0, the value of the sweet pepper, up to 16 million of pure capsaicin!
Dampen the burning of chili pepper.
The spicy taste of chili pepper is given by the action of capsaicin on the receptors of the tongue, causing a burning sensation similar to what you get when you ingest a very hot food. It’s just that the chili sensation lasts longer.
To dampen the burning of chili pepper, it is useless to swallow a lot of water. Capsaicin is soluble in alcohol or fat, in particular casein. So, it can be useful to sip a glass of wine, eat cheese, a yogurt sauce or sip a little milk. That’s why in Mexican cuisine, that is very spicy, it is used to accompany meals with sour cream, as well as in Indian cuisine where dishes are accompanied by lassi, drink made from yogurt.
In any case, even a simple slice of bread is a very effective remedy against burning, as chewing the crumb removes capsaicin molecules from the tongue receptors.
Curiosities and fun facts.
Capsaicin represented the stratagem devised by Mother Nature to ensure survival and reproduction to the plant of chili. The typical spicy taste kept away the mammals, who would eat the seeds, destroying them entirely through digestion.
On the contrary, birds are immune to capsaicin because they do not feel its taste because they lack the receptors on which this substance acts. It is thanks to them that the pepper plant has managed to survive and reproduce. The seeds ingested by the birds, in fact, are dispersed during the meal or through the faeces.