chile peppers (136721 bytes)

How hot are those chiles anyway?

By Carl Wilson, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, horticulture

As you set out your chile transplants, you may wonder how hot the fruit will grow to be. Know that science has come up with a means to measure chile heat. It's called the Scoville unit. Based on high tech liquid chromatography, the pepper scale ranges from zero for the common bell pepper to 5000 for the jalapeno. More exotic Mexican peppers may achieve a 250,000 unit rating. Pure pepper capsaicin (cap-SAY-a-sin) is 15 million. No wonder some law enforcement departments have replaced tear gas with capsaicin sprays!

Chile eaters addicted to endorphins?

Medical analysis of the human reaction to chile peppers shows the effects come from a cascade of body reactions. The capsaicin (cap-SAY-a-sin) in chiles irritates pain receptor cells in the mouth which send chemical messengers, P, to the brain to alert it to the pain. The brain produces natural painkillers called endorphins that block the pain but also likely produce pleasurable sensations. Now you may know why your chilehead friend loves the pepper so much!

How to tone down chile heat

The substance that makes chile peppers hot, capsaicin (cap-SAY-a-sin), can be detected by humans in quantities as small as 1 part per million. Capsaicin is produced by glands in the vegetable's placenta, the partition just below the stem where the seeds are attached. Since the placenta is 16 times hotter than the meat, peppers with their seeds and ribs removed are noticeably cooler.

Photo: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010