Chili: spicy pods

stimulates digestion, has an antibacterial effect and protects against infections.

Capsaicin, the ingredient in chili, is said to have many health-promoting properties.
© lunamarina – Fotolia

The onion produces tear gas, the garlic builds a stink bomb: our vegetables use many ingenious strategies to send slugs, voles or other critters fleeing. The chili bush is particularly savvy. It equips its fruits with capsaicin, one of the hottest substances nature has to offer. In this way it builds its own high-security tract.

Protection from mold

Capsaicin keeps mold away. These are the number one threat in the warm, humid climate of the chili’s South American homeland. The pungent substance also deters insects and mammals. Only birds tolerate chilies without problems. They have no sensory cells for capsaicin and can eat the hottest pods without twitching their wings.

A brilliant move of nature, because this is how the chili shrub ensures its distribution. After their meal, the birds fly on and excrete the seeds somewhere with their droppings. Since birds have no teeth and the digestive tract is short, the seeds remain intact when they come out via feces. In addition, the excrement acts as fertilizer and makes it easier for the seeds to germinate.

How healthy is hot?

For humans, as for all other mammals, when we bite into a chili, a fire blazes in our mouths, a wave of heat rolls through the body, and tears shoot to our eyes. Capsaicin stimulates special nerves that provide for the perception of pain and heat.

Pungent is not one of the tastes like sweet or salty. It is rather a sensation that "ouch" and "hot" signals. To dissipate the supposed heat, the body increases blood flow to the tissues. This effect is used, for example, in heat plasters and ointments. They contain capsaicin, which stimulates blood circulation and thus relieves muscle pain and tension.

By the way, the pungent substance is not found in the seeds or in the flesh, but in the white septums of the chilies. Pungency can be measured, for example with the scale developed by pharmacologist Wilbur Scoville in 1912. It indicates how many drops of water are needed to neutralize the pungency. Sweet peppers have 0 to 10 Scoville Units (SCU). Slightly hot chili 100 to 500 SCU, sambal olek 1000 and more SCU. Tabasco sauce has 2500 to 5000 SCU, and the very hot Piri Piri provide up to 100 000 SCU.

A sip of oil puts out the fire

Water, juice or beer will not extinguish the fire, they only distribute the fat-soluble capsaicin in the mouth, but do not remove it. Better to rinse your mouth with a swig of oil or eat a cool, high-fat yogurt. They remove capsaicin from the tongue and mucous membrane like a duster removes dust from a shelf. When handling chilies, it is advisable to wear gloves. And under no circumstances should you rub your eyes with chili fingers – it burns like hell.

As a rule, however, the spiciness in food is kept within limits. In moderation, pungents give the body a healthy kick. They boost metabolism and digestion, have an antibacterial effect and protect against infections, promote sweating and thus provide cooling on hot days. Plus, chilies add pizzazz to food and are incredibly versatile. They go very well with tomato sauce and other vegetables, taste good with fried shrimps, minced meat and pasta.

Delicious and quick to make: these spicy bean sprouts. For four people, wash and drain 400 grams of soybean sprouts, peel four shallots and cut them into strips. Crumble three dried chili peppers and saute them with the shallots in three tablespoons of oil. Add sprouts and a handful of shredded coconut, fry for a few minutes. Add two tablespoons of lime juice and salt to taste. Good appetite!

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