A chilli is judged by its heat, but have you ever wondered why that “heat” is such an important factor?
Your chilli’s bite comes from the white fibrous membranes that contain a substance called capsaicin. When the capsaicin is eaten it stimulates the brain to release endorphins into the bloodstream, creating a natural high similar to that which athletes experience. The hotter the chilli the “higher’ you feel. (No! Eating chillies won’t increase your athletic performance.)
That makes it both addictive and a powerful anti-depressant. Capsaicin also stimulates the appetite, helps to clear the lungs, improves circulation and acts as a painkiller for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.
But not all chillies are suicidally hot and beginners are advised to start with milder varieties that produce a tangy, glowing sensation in the mouth.
The general rule is that the smaller, narrower and darker the chilli, the greater its pungency.
But that’s not always so because growing conditions can affect a chilli’s hotness. Even chillies from the same bush can vary in intensity. The tip of the chilli is its mildest point so if you want to test a chilli for hotness, cut the tip and taste it cautiously.