Chili peppers do much more than spice up food and burn people’s mouths. Scientists have discovered many uses for the chemical that gives these veggies their zing. Capsaicin (Kap-SAY-ih-sin), it’s the chemical that gives these peppers their spiciness. In small doses, capsaicin can relieve pain, help with weight loss and possibly affect microbes in the gut to keep people healthier. How cool is that?
When food sits out in warm weather, microbes on the food start to multiply. If people eat food with too many of these germs, they risk getting very sick. The cold temperature inside a refrigerator stops most microbes from growing. That’s why most people today rely on refrigerators to keep their food fresh. But long ago, those appliances weren’t available. People would use chilies for their capsaicin to slow or stop microbial growth on food items.
The heat of a chili pepper is not actually a taste. That burning feeling comes from the body’s pain response system. Capsaicin inside the pepper activates a protein in people’s cells called TRPV1. This protein’s job is to sense heat. When it does, it alerts the brain. The brain then responds by sending a jolt of pain back to the affected part of the body.
The Carolina Reaper currently holds the title as the hottest chili pepper in the world. It is as much as 880 times as hot as a jalapeño — so hot that it can actually leave chemical burns on someone’s skin.
So as you gear up for some summertime picnics this summer…bring some of these chili peppers along, take a deep breath and bite into a chili pepper for some health related benefits!