The chilli has been at the forefront of the revolution in recent years that has seen the nation’s tastes change towards more exotic flavours. While this fruit (yes it’s a fruit and not a vegetable) is mostly identified with adding spicy heat to our food, there is so much more to this diverse and fascinating ingredient.
Chillies originate from the West Indies and there are almost 400 different varieties, each with its own characteristics. Some of the more commonly available fresh chilli peppers include jalapeño, serrano, poblano, yellow wax, birds eye, habarnero and cayenne.
The level of spice in chillies can vary wildly between varieties, from ones that can that can add a bit of heat to others which can hospitalise you. The Bhut Jolokia chilli pepper is the hottest chilli pepper in the world and is grown in India. At the other end of the scale, the Bell pepper (also known as sweet pepper) is the mildest chilli pepper and is native to Central America and northern South America.
Contrary to popular belief, the hottest part of the chilli pepper is not the seed but where the seed attaches to the white membrane inside the pepper. This area has the highest concentration of capsaicinoids which are flavourless, odourless substances that act on pain receptors in the mouth and throat. Capsaicinoids can be found throughout the flesh of chilli peppers in various concentrations.
As well as contributing to the flavour in our cooking, chillies also have many health benefits such as helping to lower blood sugar levels, controlling insulin levels, boosting blood circulation, helping to thin the blood, pain relief, reducing inflammation and providing a relaxing therapeutic effect. Besides improving general health these benefits can also have a positive impact on sufferers of diabetes and arthritis and reduce the risk of stroke.
They can also help you lose weight as capsaicin is a thermogenic compound which increases the metabolic rate in your body so you can burn more fat. Studies have shown that eating chillies can raise your metabolic rate by up to 23% for about 3 hours.
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