Are you into that hot and spicy?

A very spicy fruit known as chili pepper is known as chile, chile pepper, or chili.  It is scientifically known as Capsicum sp. It is found under the genus Solanaceae, a berry-fruit of a plant. This genus has about ten annuals and shrubs from tropical America renowned for its fruits’ hot taste. Some varieties contributing to the fiery hotness are considered essential in so many of the world’s cuisines. Chili is known as one of the richest sources of the natural antioxidant substance that contains bioactive compounds. It is originated in Mexico, but there is a debate about how and when they reached Asia from the Americans in which some claimed that its arrival predated Columbus. However, there is no denying that most present-day eastern and southern Asian dishes would not be the same without them.

The chili plant has soft but tough branches and smooth green leaves. It does produce inconspicuous white flowers that are borne singly or in small groups in the leaf axils, followed by fleshy, hollow fruits that vary greatly in size, shape, color, and flavor. Generally, the smaller the fruit, the hotter the taste. There has been much debate among botanists about how to classify the innumerable cultivated races into species, though most now divide them among there or four species only. Some chilies are grown as ornamentals for their brightly colored fruits, though some similar ornamental solanums with poisonous fruits are easily confused with these. The chili plant is grown in the vegetable garden as summer annuals require a long, warm, and humid season to ripen their fruit. The horticultural practice requires rich and friable soil. Chili plant has deep roots that must need ample water to ensure growth that is not checked. The seeds can be sown in situ in warmer areas, whereas the seeds are sown in the transparent glasshouse to protect the plants from frost danger while allowing the sunlight to penetrate. The shrubby chilies require only a sheltered spot against a wall in a warm climate and are easily propagated from cuttings.

Capsicum annuum is known as pepper, a species that encompasses most of the variation in fruit characteristics found in the genus. It is a large, sweet bell pepper used in salads to some of the smallest and hottest chilies. The plants also vary from bushy annuals to quite long-lived shrubs up to six feet tall despite the specific name. This species is used mainly to define a character in that the flowers are mostly solitary with recurved stalks. The many cultivars can be divided into several cultivar groups that are depending on fruit size and shape. The well-known Grossum Group includes the main salad peppers like pimento, bell, and sweet peppers. The Longum Group includes the cayenne peppers and paprika and banana peppers that are elongated ad usually curved, which results in moderately hot to very hot fruits. The Conoides Group includes forms with erect, conical fruits, most small and hot that some are grown as ornamentals with colorful fruits such as ‘Red Missile’ is a typical example. Its fruit starts creamy white and ripens purple through red. The Cerasiforme Group is known as cherry peppers with small, hot, globular to egg-shaped fruit, while some are also used as ornamental plants. The Fasciculatum Group is known as red cone peppers, clustered, erect, and elongated fruits. There is a range of cultivars of varying shades of red, yellow, green, and purple within each group that are found in many shapes and sizes.

The chili pepper or tabasco pepper, scientifically known as Capsicum frutescens, consists of short-lived perennials and longer-lived shrubs. It can grow to eight feet tall that becoming quite woody. They are distinguished from Capsicum annuum by having two to several flowers in most leaf axils in which their stalks recurved only at the top and the leaves generally smaller. It is grown as a perennial short of short stems and has woody properties at the base, which is about three feet high. The fruits form considerably between the cultivars, but all are small to very small and all very hot. They are mainly used for pickling or in hot sauces. The Tabasco strain comes from the town of that name in Southern Mexico, while Thai Hot is a strain renowned in Southeast Asia for its fierce taste.

All plants from the Capsicum genus have an active compound called capsaicin or known as 8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide. It is a nonpolar phenolic structure and a phenolic compound responsible for characteristic taste and pungency and their burning and irritant effect. Apart from giving the sensation of heat, capsaicin contributes to pain. Capsaicin is an intriguing molecule since the consumption of chili peppers evokes opposing sensations pleasantly and unpleasant, depending on individual experience and chili pepper consumption habits. It acts as a spice ingredient and consumed by humans for over six thousand years. The quantity of the capsaicin is made up to one percent of the mass of the chili peppers together with salt that represents the most consumed condiment by humans.

One must take note, especially when one is buying a bottle of hot sauce. You may find the spiciness or hotness of it that is measured in Scoville Heat Units. A Scoville scale is a tool for measuring the spiciness or pungency of hot peppers. The scale measures the amount of the capsaicin that causes the spicy heat found in the pepper and a number rating in Scoville Heat Units (SHUs). A dash of bell pepper is zero SHU, a Pepperoncini is nine hundred SHU, a Poblano has two thousand SHU, an Anaheim has two thousand five hundred SHU, Bishops crown chili and Aji Sivri chili pepper around five thousand to thirty thousand SHU, a ghost pepper that is known as Bhut Jolokia that has one million-plus SHU, whereas Naga Viper has one million and three hundred thousand plus SHU, a Trinidad Moruga Scorpion is two million-plus SHU, a Carolina Reaper has two million and two hundred thousand SHU, and pure capsaicin has about sixteen million SHU.

Chili peppers have commercial values, and they are consumed in different ways such as fresh, dried, in pastes, pickled, and a wide variety of sauces. They are considered functional food due to the biological activities displayed by several of their phytochemicals, such as capsaicinoids, carotenoids, ascorbic acids, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds. It plays a significant role in the prevention of free radicals and influences human health positively. It has been found that several studies had shown that these compounds have therapeutic advantages like anticancer, antibacterial, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, and antiviral.

Studies had found that those who frequently have the chili peppers regularly in their meal have about twenty-six percent relative reduction in cardiovascular mortality, twenty-three percent relative reduction in cancer mortality, and twenty-five percent relative reduction in all-cause mortality compared to those who rarely or never ate the chilies. The capsaicin production among the plants from the Capsicum genus was well conserved, which is likely due to its roles in seed germination and protection from parasites. The concentration of the capsaicin is higher in the area surrounding the seeds that are placental tissue, and the localization of the active compound is related directly to the role of capsaicin in protecting seed germination. Capsaicin is not equally distributed in all parts of pepper fruit.

The aversion to eating large amounts of capsaicin keeps rodents and other mammals away, and this represents an important mechanism to increase the chances of germination since mammals can grind and digest the seeds making them unable to germinate. The seeds resist the digestive tract of the birds, which makes them the perfect consumers, despite the unpleasant sensation that occurs when large quantities of chili peppers are consumed. Capsaicin promotes pain relief when it is used in the right dosage and frequency. Furthermore, capsaicin can limit energy intake while it contains only negligible energy through anorexigenic sensations like satiety and fullness. Capsaicin has been shown to inhibit platelet aggregation, which may also protect against cardiovascular diseases. Apart from that, capsaicin possesses chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic effects that support the antitumorigenic activity of capsaicin.

What happened if you burned your tongue with a meal is added with chili peppers, or the juice oozed from chili pepper had burned your skin? One of the common symptoms of having a spicy meal is one might start doing the ‘ha ha ha haa’ face, shaking hands about, as well as exhale quickly in the hope of breathing the pain away. Apart from that, swollen, red lips and watering eyes are also observed in which a glass of water is not helpful at all. This is because water does not work as the capsaicin is hydrophobic. Drinking water after biting the chilies makes the condition worse as it spreads the capsaicin around the inside of your mouth, where it will come in contact with more pain receptors and amp up the burning sensation. Furthermore, one may have an unpleasant and spicy toilet experience the next day. We have receptors located in the body, specifically the mouth, eyes, skin surfaces, and anus. Chili can also be a respiratory irritant; although it is quite rare, one can die from inhaling too much chili if one is particularly susceptible to it.

To eliminate the sensation of the spiciness caused by capsaicin, one needs to have something like olive oil, milk, or full-fat sour cream or yogurt. This is because milk has a chemical known as casein that essentially works as a ‘detergent’ to wash the capsaicin off the receptors from the reactive area. The neutralization helps and prevents the chili from burning on the way out. Products containing oil and fat like olive oil and peanut butter that help in removing the spiciness easily. A citrusy fruit like lime or lemon may help too. A slice of lemon or citrus fruit will help neutralize the capsaicin by binding with them, which is similar to what dairy can do. Additionally, other creamy fruits and veggies such as avocado and banana can reduce the burn as the silky texture will help remove the capsaicin from the moth easily.

One must ensure that one does not drink cold water immediately as it may also put off the digestive fire and may hinder your digestion process, further resulting in various health problems.

Further readings:

Nadeem, M., Anjum, F. M., Khan, M. R., Saeed, M., & Riaz, A. (2011). Antioxidant potential of bell pepper (Capsicum annum L.)-A review. Pakistan Journal of Food Science21(1-4), 45-51.

Montoya-Ballesteros, L. C., González-León, A., García-Alvarado, M. A., & Rodríguez-Jimenes, G. C. (2014). Bioactive compounds during drying of chili peppers. Drying Technology32(12), 1486-1499.

Omolo, M. A., Wong, Z. Z., Mergen, K., Hastings, J. C., Le, N. C., Reil, H. A., Case, K. A., & Baumler, D. J. (2014). Antimicrobial properties of chili peppers. Journal of Infectious Diseases and Therapy.

Fattori, V., Hohmann, M. S., Rossaneis, A. C., Pinho-Ribeiro, F. A., & Verri, W. A. (2016). Capsaicin: current understanding of its mechanisms and therapy of pain and other pre-clinical and clinical uses. Molecules21(7), 844.

Varghese, S., Kubatka, P., Rodrigo, L., Gazdikova, K., Caprnda, M., Fedotova, J., Zulli, A., Kruzliak, P., & Büsselberg, D. (2017). Chili pepper as a body weight-loss food. International journal of food sciences and nutrition68(4), 392-401.

Mohammed, M., Bridgemohan, P., Graham, O., Wickham, L., Bridgemohan, R. S., & Mohammed, Z. (2019). Postharvest physiology, biochemistry and quality management of Chili Plum (Spondias purpurea var. Lutea): a review. Journal of Food Research8(3), 1-15.

Escelsior, A., Sterlini, B., Murri, M. B., Serafini, G., Aguglia, A., da Silva, B. P., … & Amore, M. (2020). Red-hot chili receptors: A systematic review of TRPV1 antagonism in animal models of psychiatric disorders and addiction. Behavioural Brain Research393, 112734.

Aprilia, Y. I., Khuriyati, N., & Sukartiko, A. C. (2021). Classification of chili powder (Capsicum annuum L.) antioxidant activity based on near infrared spectra. Food Research5(2), 51-56.