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Jul 02

Chilli Pepper

At a recent party I came across a bottle of chilli sauce named “Possible Side Effects”. The bottle was adorned with numerous warnings about the contents being extremely hot and how, like its name implied, it had the potential to cause grevious bodily damage. I opened the bottle and took a good whiff. My eyes didn’t water, so it can’t have been that hot a sauce. So, I did a bit of research on the net. Hotness in chilli, provided by the chemical Capsaicin is measured in Scoville units. Pure capsaicin is about 16 million units. The hottest pepper is the Naga Jolokia pepper in Tezpur, India. In its natural state, it is reputed to be measured at up to 850,000 units, although some dispute this, claiming dodgy liquid chromatography by the Indians. The Habanero has been acknowledged by the Guinness Book as being the hottest at up to about 580,000 units. I couldn’t find an official measurement for Asian Chilli Padis, but they seem to rank up there with the Habanero. The sauce, “Possible Side Effects”, has a rating of about 250,000 units, which isn’t tremendously hot – not to a palate somewhat desensitised to Capsaicin, anyway. After hunting around and finding a few sauces (actually, legally the hottest sauces have to be called “food additives” because of their potency) claiming to be the hottest, I found The Source, rated at a ridiculous 7.1 million units. Just one drop of this in a gallon of minced meat will make most people cry. It’s pretty expensive too. There are some people running around though with their tastebuds all incincerated off that want to try pure capsaicin, though. These people are either bullshitting or are just plain freaks. Pure capsaicin is about 16 million Scoville units. Simply inhaling would be harrowing enough, much less ingesting it.

Pure capsaicin is so powerful that chemists who handle the crystalline powder must work in a filtered “tox room” in full body protection. The suit has a closed hood to prevent inhaling the powder. Said pharmaceutical chemist Lloyd Matheson of the University of Iowa, who once inhaled some capsaicin accidentally: “It’s not toxic, but you wish you were dead if you inhale it.” “One milligram of pure capsaicin placed on your hand would feel like a red-hot poker and would surely blister the skin,” said capsaicin expert Marlin Bensinger. (Src)

A bit on capsaicin desensitisation:

Why are hot peppers hot?
The compound to blame is capsaicin, actually a group of related compounds called capsaicinoids. Pure capsaicin (8-methyl-n-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) is a white powder soluble in alcohol but insoluble in cold water, so drinking that glass of ice water does nothing to alleviate the burning sensation. But, take courage, you can desensitize yourself to capsaicin by ingesting repeated doses at low concentrations or a single dose at high concentrations. (I don’t recommend the latter.) In this way capsacin is unique. Other spices, such as mustard oil (zingerone and allyl isothiocyanate), black pepper (piperine), and ginger (gingerol) don’t have this quality. You can’t desensitize yourself to these burning compounds. [Dairy products are also a good way to stop the burning.]

Another proposed remedy:

My own favorite retaliation against attack by hot chili pepper is to simply eat another. And if that doesn’t work, eat another one. (Berkley, R. (1992). Peppers: A Cookbook. New York: Simon & Schuster)

Chilli is also, like everything in society, potentially carcinogenic if consumed in unrealistic quantities.

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