Hot, hotter... Chili!
Just imagine: Your mouth is on fire, your cheeks are red, sweat is running down your face... And at the same time you are doing something good for your body!
We're talking about sharpness. More precisely from chili. Anyone who has ever tried a (too) spicy dish knows what we are talking about... Nevertheless, the pods have become indispensable in many kitchens. But what is it actually that makes them so healthy? Why are they often considered a "cure-all" and how can we use them without breaking a sweat?
What is chili?
Whether chili sin carne, chilli flakes or chili peppers - we encounter the bright red spice pods in a number of dishes. No wonder, since the medium-hot to fiery chilies round off every stew, soup and curry. We now know more than four thousand (!) different types of chili, which vary in colour, size, taste and - of course - heat.
The nightshade plant originally comes from the Caribbean. Before the 15th century, the hot pods were only known to the natives of Central and South America - until Christopher Columbus landed in "West India" and found bright red, unusually hot fruits there: what we know today as chillies. However, it was several years before Columbus and his crew found out about this: at first they thought they were related to the well-known pepper known from India. The former name for today's chilies: "pimienta", Spanish for "pepper".
After all, it didn't take long for the pods to start conquering the whole world. They can now be found in every supermarket, are cultivated everywhere and processed in a wide variety of ways. We at Löwen Fraction are so excited about it that we offer two spicy chili dishes: our Chipotle Chili and the Chili Vegano .
Chili, paprika, pepperoni: What are the differences?
Although the chilli is now known in every country, it is still often confused: for example, paprika and hot pepper belong to the same genus as chili (Capsicum) and look similar. However, while the peppers are mild, sweet and juicy, the hot peppers are a bit more spicy. Chilies, on the other hand, are a lot hotter depending on the breed and can make us sweat much more easily...
Fun fact: The sweet-mild to hot hot paprika powder is not, as the name suggests, made from sweet peppers, but from chili peppers. They can basically be used like peppers - with the difference that they are spicier and therefore more versatile.
Also, the hot cayenne pepper isn't what it sounds like. Unlike pepper, it is not obtained from the fruit of a pepper plant, but consists of ground chili peppers. It is named after the Cayenne chilli variety, which originated in South America and was previously used as an alternative to pepper. According to this, cayenne pepper is a pure, finely ground chili - chili powder is often a spice mixture.
Where does the sharpness come from?
"Better wear gloves when you cut this!" everyone who has tried to prepare hot chilies has probably heard it before. And rightly so: When we consume the alkaloid capsaicin, it attaches to our heat receptors and can even cause skin irritation in high doses.
The spiciness of the chilli comes largely from the light walls inside the fruit and the seeds. If you don't want to add quite as much spice to a dish, you can also remove the seeds and pulp in advance to reduce the heat.
However, if it makes you sweat afterwards, you can be sure: this chili is right at the top of the Scoville scale! This is the system of the American pharmacologist Wilbur Scoville, which determines the proportion of capsaicin and thus the sharpness. The Scoville Heats Unit (SHU) indicates how much water is needed to dilute the chili so that it just tastes hot.
A sweet pepper does not contain any capsaicin and is therefore classified as 0 Scoville. The chilli jalapeno is hotter with 5,000 SHU, but in contrast to pure cayenne pepper or the chili rawit with approx. 50,000 SHU it is still mild. However, caution is advised with Scoville degrees of 100,000 or more - this can be found, for example, in Scotch Bonnets or Habaneros.
With an impressive 2,200,000 SHU, one chilli variety is still unchallenged: Carolina Reaper. Since it can lead to so-called “thunder headaches”, a sudden, severe headache, dizziness and various other overreactions up to and including a stroke when consumed, it should not be prepared lightly – and certainly not be part of a test of courage.
By the way: sharpness is not a taste. Rather, it is a pain stimulus that activates the defense mechanism - not the taste receptors. When we eat a spicy dish, our pain receptors send the "that's-spicy" signal to the brain, which triggers the typical symptoms: sweat, tachycardia, watery eyes or a burning pain in the mouth.
What to do against the sharpness?
The rumor still persists that the best way to neutralize sharpness is with water. There is a bit of truth to it: After all, water cools. Nevertheless, reducing the sharpness as quickly as possible does not help. The best choices are fatty foods. Dairy products such as butter, yoghurt or sour cream are generally highly recommended: the capsaicin dissolves in fat and can be removed more quickly from the receptors by consuming dairy products.
Healthy sweating made easy!
Not only hot, but also extremely healthy: chillies are also very popular because of their health-promoting effects. The ancient Incas already knew about the great advantage and spiced up almost every dish with the red pods. Even today they are an integral part of South American, African or Oriental cuisines and are consumed in the form of Harrissa pastes, taco or arrabiata sauces.
And with good reason: They stimulate our circulation and blood flow and ensure increased calorie consumption. In combination with the low calorie content of only 2.8 kcal per 100 g, they are often traded as "weight loss aids", as was also found in the study by researchers at the American Purdue University: 25 people received 0.3 g - 1 g daily, 8 g cayenne pepper. The result: After six weeks, all people showed increased calorie burning.
Thanks to the improved blood circulation, chillies can even help with headaches: the blood vessels in the brain dilate and the pain largely subsides. The hot pods are also said to have a cancer-preventing effect: They contain antioxidant substances such as flavonoids and carotenoids, which can eliminate harmful substances.
Since our pain receptors are activated when eating chillies, the body sends the signal "Warning, this pain needs to be relieved" and releases endorphin - the strongest endogenous painkiller that even docks to the same receptors as heroin and can intoxicate us. What runner's high is for runners, chilli high is for those who eat chili.
Incidentally, this is also the reason why chillies are often said to make you happy. If that doesn't whet your appetite for one of the spicy pods...
What else can chili do?
The nutrients of the chili are also impressive: It scores with 44 mg of potassium, 2.1 mg of magnesium and 100 µg of iron. Also with 22.5 mg vitamin C per 10 g chili. That is about three times as much as is contained in citrus fruits! A lemon only has about 6 g of vitamin C per 10 g. The valuable antioxidant can strengthen our immune system, help build connective tissue or protect our body from harmful substances, the free radicals.
Equally useful: the high antibacterial effect of the chili, which can be attributed to the valuable nutrients. Pathogens can be rendered harmless not only in the food itself, but also in the digestive tract. In this way, the production of microorganisms is inhibited and we are protected from bacteria, fungi and various germs.
A study by the National University in Singapore also found how well chilies protect our stomach lining. One group of subjects received 20 g of chili powder with water, while the other group only drank water. After that, both groups were given a stomach-irritating dose of 600 mg of aspirin - only to find that the chili group had fewer signs of an irritated stomach lining.
Digestion can also be positively influenced by small amounts of chili. For example, high-fat foods such as the typical Mexican tacos or minced meat can be digested better and more effectively because capsaicin stimulates gastric juice production. Bloating and constipation can also be prevented by eating chili.
Even the typical hot flashes and sweating associated with it are not a bad thing - even if it may look different at first glance. When we sweat, our body temperature drops and the body cools down. People in hot regions in particular like to take advantage of this. So it is not surprising that in Mexico between 25 and 200 mg of capsaicin are consumed daily, while in Central Europe it is only 1.5 mg per day on average...
And even if you don't feel like cooking or don't have the time, you can use our chillies without a guilty conscience : They not only score with the perfect heat, but also with legumes containing fiber and protein.
Health boosters, here we come!
Of course, spicy food isn't for everyone, especially if you suffer from a sensitive stomach. But let me tell you: It's worth trying! If you have not yet had any experience with spiciness, you can also slowly approach it with milder chillies. Because even small amounts of capsaicin already have enormous positive effects on your health!
The burning in the mouth, the sweating, the watery eyes... all this is neither torture nor unhealthy - quite the opposite! Have fun eating chili, and the next time you runny nose, think about all the benefits you're giving your body!