Do you know why peppers are spicy?

Green Lifestyle
// December 16, 2016

We love adding a bit of spice to our food to give a bit more “kick.” Peppers are a go-to fruit (that’s right, they aren’t vegetables) when you want to make something hotter or spicier. But have you ever wondered why that is? Why do these multi-coloured varieties of fruits pack such a punch?

Chili peppers

Well, if you have given that some thought then you’re in luck because we’ve got the answer! But first, here’s some myth busting. Most people tend to say that if you want to decrease the spicy “hit” of pepper, then you should remove the seeds. In actuality, while this may help a little bit, it won’t make a huge difference.

hottest pepper

Why is that?

Because peppers are spicy due to an odorless, oily chemical called Capsaicin. The fascinating thing is that this compound interacts with the sensory neurons in the mouth in a manner that makes our brain think the mouth is on fire. But it isn’t really, it is just a sensation brought on by Capsaicin. In an extreme situation, if you were exposed to a concentrated version of Capsaicin, then your entire body would feel inflamed, even though it isn’t at all. You’ll still feel like you’re being burned.

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spicy peppers

Why do peppers develop Capsaicin?

Like all plants, pepper plants too need the help of animals who will eat and spread their seeds and assist them to propagate. The problem with most mammals is that they bite and grind the food they eat, which would break down pepper seeds and prevent propagation. To stop this, pepper plants developed a fruit (pepper) with a chemical that would deter mammals from eating it.

rosepepper

Many plants follow this technique, some look unappetizing, others are difficult to approach or smell terrible, while some have a fuzzy or hairy texture or even thorns. This is all done in the name of deterrence.

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pepper plants

But this doesn’t solve the pepper plant’s problem because they still need their seeds to be propagated. There’s a simple but brilliant solution to this! Recent studies have shown that birds don’t possess the sensory glad that is affected by Capsaicin and so, they can’t feel the spice.

Why birds, you ask? Well, birds tend to eat and swallow the seeds whole, not mashing them like mammals. So, they turn out to be the perfect hosts and propagators of pepper plants.

pepper threads

Medicinal Value of Peppers:

On the other hand, Capsaicin is also used for medicinal purposes. It is an extremely effective antimicrobial and antifungal agent. It is also used as a pain reliever in some Arthritis creams. The area of pain is first numbed and then the cream is applied. Once the patient begins to feel this heat, as the numbness wears down, the cream is removed.

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red peppers, green peppers

Finally, if you’ve eaten more hot peppers than you can handle, then what’s the best way to deal with that? Water would only be a temporary solution because it merely overpowers and replaces the hot sensation with a cold one. Once that’s done, the heat comes right back. So, you’re much better off with either sugar water solution or cold milk. These will help dissolve the effects of Capsaicin and stop the burning sensation.

spices herbs

Now that probably changes your outlook on peppers!

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