Hot Peppers – Facts and Myths

Hot Pepper

Most people like some type of hot pepper. Whether it is the mild pimento, the eye-watering Habanero, or a dash of chili powder to liven up dull chicken, people enjoy chili peppers in a variety of ways. Have you ever wondered what the hottest peppers are? Some may believe that it is the Habanero that is king, as it is the most common of the hotter chili peppers. However, this is not true, there are many peppers that are much hotter than the Habanero.

Tied for the top spot as the world’s hottest chili pepper are the Bhut Jolokia, and the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion. The Bhut Jolokia, also known as the ghost pepper, or ghost chili, grows in the Indian states of Nagaland, Assam, and Manipur. In 2007, Guinness World Records hailed the ghost pepper as the world’s hottest chili pepper. In 2011, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion dethroned the Bhut Jolokia. Since then the two peppers have had to settle for a tie, as either can test hotter than the other, depending on conditions.

As the name suggests, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion grows in the Moruga district of Trinidad, and Tobago. The pepper has a sweet, fruity flavour that can fool even the best hot pepper eaters into a false sense of security. The heat of the pepper grows stronger for some time after taking a bite; the heat climax can provide quite a shock for the pepper’s consumer.

Hot Pepper

Now, you are possibly wondering, how is the heat of chili peppers ranked? The answer is the Scoville scale, named for American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, who created the testing method in 1912. The Scoville scale measures pungency, or spicy heat, of a hot chili pepper. Scoville scale heat units (SHU) indicate the amount of capsaicin present in a hot pepper. Capsaicin is an irritant which produces a burning sensation on any tissue exposed to it, including tongue, eyes, and skin. For placement on the Scoville scale a measured amount of the capsaicin oil of a dried hot pepper is made. A solution of water and sugar is added a little at a time until the heat of the pepper is hardly noticeable to a panel of five taste testers. The degree of dilution required places the chili on the Scoville scale. To help appreciate the heat of the Bhut Jolokia, and the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, one must look at the Scoville ratings of more common hot chili peppers.

As you can plainly see, the Bhut Jolokia pepper, and the Trinidad Moruga pepper, is not for everyone’s menu. If you find Jalapenos a bit too warm, you should definitely steer-clear of these capsaicin giants. It should be noted that depending on the source, the SHU of a pepper may vary slightly. This is not erroneous, or wrong, the difference lies in the specific type of individual chili pepper, the plant itself, or, even where a plant is grown, can all be determining factors. Like people, each plant is different, small degrees of capsaicin variation do occur. This is also why the Bhut Jolokia, and the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, continues to compete, ultimately being tied in, and first place for the world’s hottest pepper title.

Hot chili peppers are used in recipes, and for other things, the world over. There are many myths that surround hot peppers.

Scoville Heat Unit

Chili Pepper Myths

Myth: Hot pepper seeds hold most of the pepper’s heat.
The pith, or white matter to which the seeds are attached, hold the heat. However, capsaicin from the pith may cover the outside of the seed while the plant grows.

Myth: Hot peppers cause haemorrhoids.
A study on the effects of hot chili peppers on haemorrhoids patients determined that hot peppers have no effect, and that there is no reason that people with, or without, haemorrhoids shouldn’t enjoy a spicy meal when they want to.

Myth: Eating hot peppers can kill you.
This is only partially a myth, the likelihood that the scenario required would actually ever play-out is slim-to-none. A study done in 1980 concluded that if a 150 lb. person consumed 3 lbs. of extreme chilies, such as the Bhut Jolokia, in powder form, in one sitting, then the person would, in fact, die. This analogy is also assuming food allergies to hot peppers are not a factor for the person consuming the pepper powder. The waivers that some restaurants require people to sign are generally regarded as a publicity stunt. However, if you do consume dishes and sauces made from very hot peppers, when the heat, and/or indigestion hits, you may wish you were dead.

Hot Peppers

Myth: Capsaicin kills off your taste buds.
Hot food may make your mouth numb; however, it will not kill your taste buds. Your taste buds are constantly replacing themselves, your taste buds completely replace themselves approximately every two weeks.
There are many myths about hot peppers; some of the other myths are a bit more outlandish. For example, if you burn chili peppers it will ward-off vampires, and werewolves. A more believable variation is that burning the hot peppers wards-off vermin, such as mice, rats, and bedbugs. Magical herbalism aligns hot peppers with the god Mars, the god of war. One African-American legend from the deep South of the United States says that for a pepper plant to be hot, you must be angry when you plant the seed.

The truth about hot peppers is that they are generally high in vitamin C and antioxidants. The capsaicin in hot peppers may help prevent heart disease, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. Capsaicin also stimulates the body into producing endorphins, a natural pain reliever that can make you feel happy, and well-adjusted. Some studies also attribute capsaicin in a meal lowering the amount of insulin produced by the body after the meal.

Even if you do not feel comfortable trying a super-hot ghost pepper, try adding some mild chili pepper to your meals for the health benefits, and the endorphins. You may find yourself more of a hot pepper fan than you realized.

Hot Peppers