10 Fascinating Facts about Chillies

Today is National Chilli Day! Whether you prefer it Texas-style, Mexican-style, or vegetarian, chilli served with a side of cornbread is a fabulous comfort food.

Here’s 10 fascinating facts about these devilishly hot little peppers you probably didn’t know:

1. Chillies are not from Mexico

Despite popular belief, chilli does not come from Mexico. The recipe has certainly been influenced by Mexican culture, but it also incorporates elements from Native American and Spanish culinary traditions. Many historians believe chilli originated in Texas where all three of these cultures intersected.

2. Over 400 different types of chillies

Today there are probably 400 different chillies grown. It’s one of the most widely cultivated crops in the world, grown from the Far East, China, Japan, Thailand and Indonesia to India to Mexico. Some of the more commonly available fresh chillies include jalapeño, serrano, poblano, yellow wax, birds eye, habarnero and cayenne are now being stocked by many stores and markets.

3. The first chilli was called “the soup of the Devil”

According to legend, Spanish priests called the first chilli “the soup of the Devil” because they believed that chili peppers were an aphrodisiac.

4. Method for measuring the strength in chillies

In 1912 Wibur Scoville (1845-1942) developed a method for measuring the strength of capsicum in a given pepper, which originally meant tasting a diluted version of a pepper and giving it a value. Nowadays 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.

5. Chillies are natural painkillers

The fiery sensation of chillies 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.

6. The most jalapeno chilli peppers eaten in one minute

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the most jalapeno chilli peppers eaten in one minute is 16 by Alfredo Hernandes (USA) at the La Costeña Feel the Heat Challenge in Chicago, IL, USA on 17 September 2006. The video didn’t support the claim he ate 17 according to the guidelines, only 16, so they agreed to being given the record for 16.

7. Chillies are good for your health 

Chillies are loaded with vitamin A, a potent antioxidant and boost to the immune system. As the pods mature and darken, high quantities of vitamin C are gradually replaced with beta carotene and the capsaicin levels are at their highest. Due to these capsaicin levels, some believe that eating chillies may have an extra thermic affect, temporarily speeding up the metabolic rate, hence burning off calories at a faster rate. Whatever, you certainly do sweat and actually cool down in hot climates as sweat evaporates. Your nose runs, your head clears … you can breath! And with that extra flow of saliva, the gastric juices also flow. The alkaloids from the capsaicin stimulate the action of stomach and intestine improving the whole digestion process!

8. The world’s hottest chilli

The hottest chilli is the Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T” which was grown by The Chilli Factory (Australia) and rated at 1,463,700 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) according to tests conducted by EML Consulting Services in Morisset, New South Wales, Australia, on 1 March 2011.

9. The hottest part of a chilli

Contrary to popular opinion, it is not the seeds that are the hottest part of a chilli, but the white pith that surrounds them and runs in thick veins through the pod. Fresh red chillies are two to three times hotter than green fruit, and dried pods are between two and ten hotter than fresh pods. When cooking remember the golden rule, you can add but you can’t take away.

10.  Easing the pain

Be careful when trying new chillies, the burning sensation of some, like the Chiltepin, is quick and explosive and subsides very quickly whereas the heat of others, like the Habanero, builds very slowly. Drinking milk or placing a spoonful of yoghurt in your mouth is the best way to relieve the burning sensation of chillies as water will just spread the capsaicin oil around.