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Do You Know Your Chilies?


Spices add flavor to food. They’ve have long been used as a food preservative in warm climates. Chili peppers amongst all spices amount to a flavor that’s hot and of course, spicy. They add a tingle on your lips and leave a burning sensation on your tongue. Studies have shown consumption of <a href=”http://news.health.com/2015/08/07/health-benefits-of-spicy-food/” target=”_blank”>spicy food to have many health benefits</a>, the love for spicy food to be genetic, to thoughts like <a href=”http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304893404579530290585919688″ target=”_blank”>spicy food lovers are more loyal customers</a>!

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Spicy food and my home are poles apart! But one soul at home loves it super hot. My better half. Should I call him a fire eater or what? And me with zero tolerance to anything hot, a little spice would leave me with a runny nose! The sensation you get when you bite into a chili- it’s hot and it hurts as well! But a huge majority in the Southern part of India where we live are major spice eaters. For few, spice kills the taste but to many a plunge into super spicy food gives a kick and a thrill like a roller coaster ride! Many studies show how <a href=”http://allday.com/post/2202-science-explains-why-we-like-spicy-food/” target=”_blank”>humans enjoy pleasure with a little pain</a> and <a href=”http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-we-love-the-pain-of-spicy-food-1420053009″ target=”_blank”>the relief at its end</a>.


The capsaicin in chilies causes the heat sensation when consumed. The varieties of chili peppers are many with varied levels of hotness, with the Carolina Reaper Pepper being crowned as the world’s hottest chili by the Guinness World Records.

Carolina Reaper Pepper

Carolina Reaper Pepper

Now, why all this chili talk? If you’ve been googling today, you’ll know what made me write this. <a href=”http://www.google.com/doodles/wilbur-scovilles-151st-birthday” target=”_blank”>Google’s come up with fun and interactive doodle in the form of a game to honor Wilbur Scoville</a>. 151 years ago on this day, Scoville was born; the man behind telling us how hot can spicy get. He was an American chemist who discovered the Scoville Organoleptic Test, a scale of ‘hotness’ that has been the definitive rating of how spicy a chili is. The Scoville Scale measures the concentration of capsaicin in the chili and tells us how hot a chili is. While a bell pepper rates zero Scoville heat units (SHU), a the Carolina Reaper Pepper rates 16 million SHU and over.


What is the Scoville Organoleptic Test?

This test measures Scoville heat units(SHU). The chili is first dissolved in alcohol to remove the capsaicin oil and then diluted in sugar water. A panel of five tasters is then asked to drink the mixture and detect the hotness. If they can, the mixture is diluted again until three of the five cannot detect any hotness. SHU is a measure of how many times the dilution was done to completely cancel out the hotness. More the dilution, the SHU increases which indicates high heat level of a chili pepper. This test was invented in 1912 and has remained the weather glass for spiciness ever since.

And there’s lots more to that spicy feeling. Rather, lots more science to it. Watch the Science of Spiciness.

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