When we ordered papaya salad in Laos, the waiter asked if we’d like it spicy. Me (modest): „a little bit“; my boyfriend (showing off): „yes, v-e-r-y spicy“. When the waiter returned with the salads he said he had made it only tourist spicy. Tourist spicy! But this salad was from hell! My tongue was burning like a bonfire, my lips were swollen like Pamela Andersons, I had red patches around my mouth and was coughing like a wolf. I downed a coconut shake and took ten minutes to recover. Later I learned that a Lao person would eat a salad with six chilis while the tourist dosis is two. And my little dosis was … ahem, well, one.
But still, I like spicy stuff. So, let’s take a look at the background of this magic little spice and how to handle it!
1. Why do we like chili?
We sweat, sneeze, cough, hiccup, have a runny nose and the feeling our tongue is fire. Delicious, eh? So, why do we like chili? Some suspect our body mistakes the burning for pain and reacts by producing endorphins, the happiness hormone. Others suggest a more psychological cause: We like the thrill, similar to horror movies or bungee jumping. Our body thinks we’re in danger and we actually know we’re not. (yes, humans are weird)
2. Is chili healthy?
Chili is said to cure or soothe lots of bodily disorders, such as digestive problems, a stuffed nose, migraine or cold feet. It lowers blood sugar levels and cholesterol, improves heart health, boosts circulation and protects against strokes. But there is hardly scientific evidence for this theses. So let me simply state some facts: Chili contains 2,5 times more Vitamin C than oranges, also carotene, most B vitamins, anti-oxidants, magnesium and iron. So is it healthy? Yes.
3. Does chili make you loose weight?
There are also rumours about chili helping you to get thin. The capsaicin in chili aids your metabolism and get your body burning energy faster. Studies reveal that eating chillies can raise your metabolic rate by up to 8% over your normal rate. Also science suggests that capsaicin may serve as an appetite-suppressant.
4. How can you know how hot a chili is?
You cannot judge the heat of a chili from its outside. Sometimes even chilis from one bush will differ greatly. This may come from the ripeness or the maturity of the fruit and also how much water it had had. The award winning chili farmer Joanna Plumb explained in the Guardian a trick to test the heat of a chili: Slice off the stem and stick your tongue on the exposed flesh of the pod. The tip is usually the mildest part.
5. Where does chili come from?
As early as 7500 BC Chili has been part of the human diet in Middle and South America. Columbus discovered them there and mistook them for peppers. So that is where the name derives from. Once Columbus brought them back home chillies spread through Europe, Asia and Africa. Today, India is the biggest producer of chillies.
6. Why do people in hot climate use more chili?
In hot climate, the people tend to cook hot and spicy. The reason for this is that chili is said to eliminate bacteria in the food and the digestive system, which is always a risk in hot areas.
7. What to do when your mouth is burning?
Your first instinct is to drink something like – a lake. Don’t. This would only spread the heat in your mouth. Better chew some bread or rice to neutralise or drink something greasy like milk.
8. What to do when something else is burning?
First get rid of the chili oil by wiping it with alcohol or washing it off with soap. To soothe the burning afterwards soak a tissue or napkin in milk or yogurt and press it on the spot.
9. How to measure the heat of a chili?
To measure the hotness of a chili scientists use scoville heat units. It is done by measuring how much water it takes to neutralise the heat. For example if you need 10 liters of water to clear away the heat of 1ml chili the SHU will be 10.000. The range goes from zero for an ordinary pepper to about 300.000 for habaneros.
10. What is the Scovie Awards?
The world’s largest spicy food competition. At the annual event a judging panel of food and gourmet experts votes the best and hottest chili products. Last years winner: Chipotle Mustard Burn in Hell by Lusty Monk from Albuquerque.