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Health Food of the month - Chillies

February 2020

a handful of chillies
Chillies come in a huge range of types and heats

Previous Health Foods of the Month...





Diet & Supplements Index

Who quite came up with this is a bit of a mystery, but the fourth Thursday of February is National Chilli Day... or National Chili Day as it is known in America.

Evidently this is the day when communities celebrate chilli con carne, and this year it falls on February 27th.

But while chilli con carne might be one of the best dishes based around this spicy hot plant, today chillies are included in a wide range of very tasty recipes.

Chillies all belong to the capsicum family, related to tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines and even tobacco. They are not technically a pepper, as peppers come from the genus piper, not capsicum. But chilli pepper was an early description of the plant and they are now often referred to simply as hot peppers.

The heat in them is caused by capsaicinoids. These chemicals are thought to be produced as a deterrent against being eaten by certain mammals; and while their hot taste might keep normal predators away, evolution certainly didn’t allow for the trend in hot spicy dishes in humans!

Scoville Heat Units

The level and heat given off by various chillies can vary enormously. In recent years this heat has been measured on a scale called the Scoville Scale and the heat of a chilli termed in SHUs or Scoville Heat Units.

While the fairly acceptable jalapeno scores between 2,500 and 8,000 SHUs, the super hot Carolina Reaper chilli offers an average of 1,569,300 SHUs. This chilli is best avoided by normal people with normal taste buds!!

From a huge range of variations of the chilli plant, today there are really only a handful of species that are used in modern cooking.

Often shops will sell mixed packs of mild to medium heat chillies and these are usually of the Serrano variety and can vary a lot in their heat. Finger chillies can come in green or red varieties and this can be deceptive as they can offer a lot of heat.

Many chilli enthusiasts always choose a Scotch bonnet. These can come in green, yellow and orange as well as red and instead of the long thin shape they come in a more rounded heart form... but they can definitely pack a punch! They have their own flavour as well as producing heat, and are favourites in Caribbean recipes.

Tabasco, that favourite sauce, is not just a brand name; it comes from the tabasco pepper, a variety of Capsicum fretescens chillies that come from Mexico. Tabasco offers around 30,000 to 50,000 on the Scoville scale of heat levels, and interesting are juicy inside instead of dry.

Chillies could actually be really good for us... they are packed with all sorts of vital nutrients. But of course the problem is we only eat them in tiny amounts. Nevertheless it is worth noting that they are very high in vitamin C and vitamin B6. They also offer vitamin K1 and A, potassium and copper, that essential trace element that we often miss out on.

Thanks to this, chillies can clearly be a healthy and natural way to add flavour to a meal; but this is definitely an area where the right species and controlled portions are paramount; some chillies can become too hot to handle... let alone eat!


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