The king of spices delights us with its powerful punch when it comes to taste. But, do you know that chilies are botanically classified as fruits?
Yes, chilies are botanically fruits as they bear seeds. However, the edible plant part other than the fruit is a vegetable.
Pepper vs. chili: the difference!
While pepper is a member of the genus ‘piper’, chili is a member of the genus capsicum. Chilies are even spicier than pepper. They add a fiery taste to the food. Pepper is a hot powder with a powerful aroma and finds its place with salt on dining tables. Chilli is used in the cooking process while pepper is frequently used as a sprinkler. However, both are effective ways to add flavor to the meals depending on the meal type.
It sets the mouth on fire! But how?
We all love chilli pakoras, isn’t it? The delicious snack is often savoured with a steaming cup of masala chai. Indian cuisines are incomplete without the pungent flavour of chilies! But have you ever wondered about the powerful punch that is encased in a single chili bite?
The pungency of chili is attributed to its main bioactive plant compound, capsaicin.
This particular bioactive plant compound is a defense mechanism of the plant to keep fungi at bay. Insects frequently poke holes in the skin of chilies hence making way for the harmful fungi. It is scientifically proven that the chilies that grow in areas with a large number of insects are much spicier than the ones that thrive in bug-free zones.
A pop of bioactive compounds in the pod
Apart from capsaicin, chilies bear other bioactive plant compounds like capsthanin, violaxanthin, lutein, sinapic acid, and ferulic acid. Lutein is abundant in green peppers while violaxanthin accounts for 37-68% of the total carotenoid content. Sinapic acid and ferulic acid impart antioxidizing properties to the spice while capsthanin is responsible for its red color. capsaicin binds with the pain receptors and soothes the pain from acid reflux. Capsaicin also helps unblock sinuses It is believed that chilies can reduce appetite and rapidly burn fats. Fifteen grams of chili accounts for 88% water and 0.1 grams of fat. It is rich in beta carotene that converts to vitamin A and is also a rich source of vitamin C.
Mexicans were the first to spice their food:
A plate full of naga Jolokia- the hottest chili
The term chili is derived from Chilpoctli or chiltepin from the Aztec language. They originated around 7000B.C in Mexico. Mexicans were the first ones to spice up their food with chilies. The rest of the world began to savor chilies when Christopher Columbus took it back to Spain from India and misinterpreted it as the black pepper. The powerful punch of chilly then spread across the globe. Today, there are more than 400 varieties of chilli all over the world. World’s hottest chilli – Naga Jolokia is cultivated in Tezpur, a small town of Assam in India. Chilies were introduced in India by the Portuguese. Today, India alone contributes to 25% of the world’s total chilli production. Indian chilies have been dominating the international chilli market. States like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, and Orissa cultivate chilies on a commercial scale.
Ranking the hotness!
The Scoville scale was discovered in 1912 to rank the hotness of chilies. Named after the pharmacist, Wilbur Scoville, the scale initially provided a standard measurement to compare the pepper hotness. The dried chilli was soaked in alcohol and diluted in sugar. It was diluted more and more until a panel of five trained testers could not detect it. The measure of dilution needed was indicative of the chilli’s hotness. This method is no longer used today. Modern-day scientists prefer high-performance liquid chromatography to extract capsaicin and calculate a corresponding Scoville score.
The Carolina reaper is the spiciest known chilli to man and ranks up to 2.2 million S.H.U (Scoville heat units). The mild bell peppers are rated from 1-100 S.H.U.
Ancient beliefs: an indicator of a lethal snake bite!
lemon and chilli hanging at the entrance of a shop
In ancient times, the journey by road was a hazardous one. People would travel long distances and often carried lemons and chilies with them. It is said that they were indicative of a lethal snake bite. If the victim could taste the chilli spice, the bite was not considered lethal. Scientifically speaking, the poison paralyses the nerve endings hence inhibiting any taste.
In India, it is a common sight to see lemon and chilies hanging at door entrances and on vehicles. Here a blend of science and tradition comes into play. When pierced, the fluids mix with air and repel air germs.it is believed that it serves as a lucky charm to ward off any negative energy or bad luck.
The holy trinity of garnishes and other delights:
Indian cuisines can’t be imagined without the pungent spice. Chilies are consumed fresh, dried, and put into tadkas. They are even flaked and added as a garnish or even powdered to form a masala. The holy trinity of garnishes- the onions, chilies, and lemons add to the elements of crunch, acidity, and heat to balance a meal. Chilli jams and pickles are also savoured in Indian cuisines.
- Pooja Kumari Sha