I add some kind of chilli, whether it be hot sauce, dry spice or fresh peppers, to every single meal I eat.
I sometimes get a sideways glance from Mrs Burnörium when I sprinkle Psycho Spice on my Sunday lunch but she knows, to me, food without fire is just plain boring.
There’s good reason for this and, for those of us who enjoy eating fiery foods, the reason is obvious. It makes us feel better. If you’ll just allow me a Stephen Fry moment I’ll try and explain why.
The active component in chilli peppers is a substance called capsaicin which is found predominantly in the membranes and placental tissue which holds the seeds but, contrary to popular belief, not the actual seeds themselves.
When consuming fiery foods, capsaicin comes into contact with the nerves in your mouth. It’s an irritant and it tastes hot, so pain signals are sent to your brain.
Your brain responds by releasing endorphins which are natural painkillers that resemble opiates in the way that they produce a sense of well being and euphoria.
Your mouth may be on fire but you feel good.
It is this that also gives chilli its addictive quality. You remember the good feeling and actively crave more of the same.
Over time your tolerance to the heat builds and you turn to even hotter foods to give you the same feeling.
So, the hotter the food, the more endorphins released and the better you feel. Simple.
In 1912 an American chemist by the name of Wilbur Scoville set about finding the answer to this very question and the test he devised was known as the Scoville Organoleptic Test.
The test consisted of diluting chilli pepper extract with sugar syrup until the heat was no longer detectable to a panel of tasters. The degree of dilution then gave its measure on the Scoville Scale.
Therefore, a bell pepper which contains no capsaicin at all has a Scoville rating of zero.
At the other end of the scale, the Red Savina Habanero pepper has a rating of 350,000 – 580,000 Scovilles which means its extract has to be diluted by at least 350,000 times before the capsaicin can no longer be detected.
Despite looking a bit like Tintin with a dead rat on his top lip, good old Wilbur was undoubtedly a top bloke, but the biggest flaw in his method of testing was the fact that it relied on human subjectivity and, as we know, we’re all different and what’s hot to one is not necessarily hot to another.
Nowadays a method known as High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) is used to measure the pungency of peppers.
HPLC identifies and measures the heat-producing chemicals in peppers which are then bombarded with mathematical formulae containing a mind-boggling array of letters, numbers in brackets and square root symbols; probably by a university bod with a brain the size of a planet. I reckon even Stephen Fry would be out of his league here, this is more Stephen Hawking territory.
Personally I prefer Wilbur’s method. Sure it’s not perfect, but the guy is a legend in the world of chilli and what’s more, he didn’t rely on a laboratory full of machines and a bionic version of Carol Vorderman to work out the results.
He just took normal people and melted their faces for his own amusement research.
|Blair’s 16 Million Reserve||16,000,000|
|Mad Dog 357 Pepper Extract||5,000,000|
|Mad Dog 44 Magnum Pepper Extract||4,000,000|
|Mad Dog 38 Special Pepper Extract||3,000,000|
|Mad Dog 22 Midnight Special Pepper Extract||2,000,000|
|Psycho Juice Extreme Ghost Pepper||600,000|
|Mad Dog 357 Hot Sauce||357,000|
|Red Savina Habañero||350,000 – 580,000|
|Scotch Bonnet||100,000 – 325,000|
|Jamaican Hot Pepper||100,000 – 200,000|
|Rocoto||50,000 – 100,000|
|Super Chilli||40,000 – 50,000|
|Cayenne||30,000 – 50,000|
|Tabasco Pepper||30,000 – 50,000|
|de Arbol||15,000 – 30,000|
|Aji||12,000 – 30,000|
|Serrano||5,000 – 23,000|
|Hot Wax||5,000 – 10,000|
|Chipotle||5,000 – 10,000|
|Jalapeño||2,500 – 8,000|
|Guajillo||2,500, – 5,000|
|Tabasco Sauce||2,500 – 5,000|
|Pasilla||1,000 – 2,000|
|Ancho||1,000 – 2,000|
|Anaheim||500 – 2,500|
|Nu Mex||500 – 1,000|
|Santa Fe Grande||500 – 700|
|Pimento||100 – 500|