Chillies & Their Health Benefits

Autumn
Wednesday, 14th October 2015

Hot chilli sauces are becoming ever more popular, but did you know that chillies are more than little bites of fire? Chillies have many health benefits, from weight management to migraines.

The world can’t get enough spice! In 2014, worldwide sales of hot chilli sauces grew by 8.3%, generating $1.72 billion (around £1.1 billion). With experts predicting that sales will skyrocket to over $2.5 billion (around £1.6 billion) in 2020, it’s time to turn up the heat...

What’s in a chilli?

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The Scoville scale

The Scoville scale is used to measure how hot a chilli pepper, sauce or any other food derived from chillies is.

The scale measures the concentration of capsaicin within the food. Developed in 1912 by Wilbur L. Scoville, the chilli extract is diluted in sugar water and served to a panel of five tasters until the heat of the pepper can no longer be felt. How diluted the pepper is determines its place on the scale.

Measurements are given in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), which indicates the degree of dilution required. For example, if a pepper has a SHU of 75,000, it will need to be diluted 75,000-fold in order to extinguish the heat.

While this method works, it is subject to human sensitivity. Other scientific methods are also used, namely High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC).

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Health benefits of chillies & spicy foods

A typical chilli can contain seven times the amount of vitamin C found in an orange. Many studies have been conducted to determine the health benefits that chillies offer.

Weight management
In 2011, a small study was carried out to determine the effect that cayenne peppers has on energy expenditure and appetite. 
The results found that the pepper significantly increased body temperature. It helped reduce cravings for salty, fatty or sweet foods, but this was most prominent in people who don’t usually eat spicy food.

From this study, conclusions were drawn that suggested chilli peppers have weight management potential when consumed on an infrequent basis. However, as the study was quite small, further research is required.

Clearing sinuses
Because Capsaicin is an irritant, it causes the mucous membrane in your nose to become inflamed. It will begin to produce mucous in an attempt to trap and remove the offending molecule. As a result, chillies and other spicy food can provide temporary congestion relief.

Migraines & Headaches
Studies have been carried out to establish the effects Capsaicin can have on migraines and headaches. Capsaicin causes the body to release calcitonin gene-related peptides (CGRP), which increases blood flow in the problem area. This can help ease the pain felt.

Myth 1: Smaller chillies are always hotter than larger ones

FICTION
The heat of a chilli depends on the amount of capsaicin it contains. As smaller chillies have a higher amount of pith and seeds — which is where the capsaicin is stored — they are generally spicier. However, some chillies have broken this rule. For example, the Cayenne pepper (30,000-50,000 SHU) can grow up to 30cm in length!

Myth 2: Drinking water will amplify the heat of the chilli

FACT
Cold drinks like water only provide temporary relief from the heat of a chilli. Because capsaicin is oily, it does not mix with the water. Instead of cooling your mouth, water will help to spread the heat-causing compounds, making the heat seem more intense.

Instead, you should drink milk or yoghurt. The lipids found in these will bind with the oil, helping to wash it away and minimising heat.

Myth 3: Hot chillies will permanently damage my taste buds

FICTION
Because taste and heat are different sensations, you will not damage your taste buds through eating hot chillies. Heat is detected by the polymodal nociceptors on your tongue, whereas the caliculus gustatorius senses taste — in other words, your taste buds are safe!

World Records

Fastest time to eat three Bhut Jolokia Chillies - 16.15 seconds - World record holder Jason Mcnabb

Most Bhut Jolokia peppers eaten in two minutes - 66 grams - World record holder: Jason Mcnabb

Fastest time to eat three Carolina Reaper chilies - 12.23 seconds - World record holder: Russel Todd

Most jalapeno chilli peppers eaten in one minute - 16 - World record holder: Alfredo Hernandes

Further resources

In collaboration with www.hawkin.com

Botanist & TV gardener, James Wong, shares his top tips for getting hotter chillies in his new book Grow For Flavour

Winter immune boosters from the kitchen, garden and hedgerow

Spice up your weekend with the Chilli Fiesta

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