Wednesday, 25 May 2011

How hot is hot?

Some experts think that we like chillies because they’re good for us and we are following some biological imperative - not because we are indulging in a type of culinary sado-masochism. Some claim that hot peppers can help lower blood pressure and that they destroy some bacteria. All are agreed that chillies increase the production of saliva which may help if you also eat bland food like corn or rice.
So how hot is hot?  The Scoville scale is used to measure the spicy heat of a chili pepper. The number of Scoville heat units (SHU) gives the amount of capsaicin present. Capsaicin is a chemical compound that stimulates or irritates the nerve endings in the skin, especially the mucous membranes. Although the presence of capsaicin can now be measured by a chemical test the Scoville scale - developed in 1912 – initially relied on the perception of individuals taking part in the tests. This was done by getting them to taste different mixtures containing varieties of chilli pepper combined with a neutral-tasting food.

On the standard Scoville heat scale capsicums (in America known as Bell peppers) register nil, the hottest Indian jolokia peppers register around 1,000,000.  Orange habaneros - the name comes from Havana, Cuba and they are also called scotch bonnets because of their shape - range from 100,000 to 350,000.  Jalapenos (originating in Mexico) can be mild or hot anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000.  

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Chilli – the hot and not so cool spice

‘The top of my head was coming off. My eyes were streaming, my nose was running and I could barely see the plate in front of me.  My tongue went numb and I tried to catch my breath but all the air had gone. I grabbed the glass of water to quench the fire in my mouth. ‘

This is one man‘s description of eating ‘the hottest curry of them all’ -  the thall which according to one recipe contains at least 12 fresh or dried chillies and 3 teaspoons of hot chilli powder.  Most of us have heard of vindaloo but restaurateurs have also created ‘bindaloo’ (hotter) and ‘tindaloo’ (even hotter).  The Rapali in Newcastle has created ‘Curry Hell’ and this has lured chefs and TV stars to their table and to their special test of determination – or is it madness? The Rupali’s staff say Curry Hell makes vindaloo taste like ice cream and Gordon Ramsey says it is the hottest curry he has ever tasted.  If you manage to finish the dish your picture is included in their hall of fame along with Chris Evans and Adrian Chiles. 
So why on earth do we do it? According to Professor Paul Bloom this is what distinguishes man from other animals. Bloom is Professor of Psychology at Yale and in his book ‘How pleasure works’ he takes a look at why we like what we like.  This includes seeking out potentially dangerous experiences like sky diving or by deliberately giving ourselves pain and getting pleasure from it.
 “Philosophers have often looked for the defining feature of humans — language, rationality, culture and so on. I’d stick with this: Man is the only animal that likes Tabasco sauce.”
Is this what makes us human? More about our contrary nature later......