Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How Hot is It?

Not the weather – that PEPPER! Although we are finally getting heat and, typically, plenty of it all at once, we speak here of peppers.

TigerPaw-NR is one of the spiciest peppers
Your taste buds are craving salsa and it’s time to check the peppers growing in the back garden. There are several varieties of “hot” peppers, some turning red, but just how hot are they? We turn to the Scoville Scale for the answer.

Developed by chemist Wilbur Scoville, the scale measures hotness of peppers by measuring the capsaicin (cap-say-ah-sin) content.
It's good for comparisons between types of peppers but remember that plants grown in different conditions may be hotter or sweeter than rated.
Use caution when handling hot peppers.

So here goes, a listing of some of the most popular types is below. Go to the Scoville Scale online for a more complete listing.

Fighting the Burn

Capsaicin is alkaline oil. Water and alcohol don’t help because they won’t dissolve the oil and only spread it around. Acidic food or drink helps neutralize the oil. Try lemon, lime or orange juice, cold lemonade, or tomato drinks (not a Bloody Mary - see above).

Dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, sour cream and ice cream are acidic and may help. Eating carbohydrate foods such as bread or tortillas may help by absorbing some of the oil. Chew these but don’t swallow. Did you know that most hot-chili eating contests provide bowls of powdered milk and water to participants?

For skin irritations (you weren’t careful?), wash off the oil with soap and warm water. Dry and repeat if needed. Remember, capsaicin is oil and can be spread to other parts of the body by touching. Also, wash all utensils and cutting surfaces with soap and water after use to avoid spreading the oil.

For an upset stomach (Yes, they get through.) drink milk, the more fat content the better or eat carbohydrate foods like bread and crackers. Mayo Clinic suggests sleep or rest in an upright or slightly inclined position to prevent heartburn and acid reflux.

Benefits of Capsaicin

Paradoxically, capsaicin's knack to cause pain makes it helpful in alleviating pain. National Institute of Health research supports the topical use of capsaicin for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis by lowering sensitivity to pain. Capsaicin can be found in over-the-counter creams and plasters.
Research continues on many other possible benefits in cancer treatments, anti-inflammatory use, weight loss and lowering cholesterol.
Check these other links for more information
Penn State: Ornamental Peppers
The Gut-Wrenching Science Behind the World's Hottest Peppers by Mary Roach (always an entertaining writer) for Smithsonian Magazine


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