We all know that certain peppers are hotter than hot, but have you ever wondered why? The capsaicin in peppers causes the heat you experience while eating hot peppers. The more capsaicin in the pepper, the hotter it is. When consuming capsaicin you endure pain because your body is fighting the heat of the pepper. “When you eat a hot pepper, endorphins work to block the heat,” says Paul Bosland, co-founder and director of New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute.
Those that can’t get enough of spicy foods can’t get enough of capsaicin. For some, it creates a euphoric state of mind when eating. This unique, natural chemical is found prominent in the seeds of the pepper. Most try to avoid this part of the pepper but others look to eat the seeds. The article below from CulinaryArts.About.com explains unique features of capsaicin.
Capsaicin is the chemical in chili peppers that makes them spicy. Specifically, capsaicin occurs in the fruits of plants in the Capsicum family, including bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, cayenne peppers and other chili peppers.
Capsaicin in chili peppers is measured on the Scoville Scale and expressed in terms of Scoville Heat Units. Bell peppers are the only member of the capsicum family that don’t contain capsaicin, and thus register zero Scoville units.
Besides being the source of the heat, or pungency, in chili peppers, capsaicin will cause a burning sensation in any part of the skin or other tissues it contacts. Thus, when a cook is working with cut chili peppers, the capsaicin from their hands can burn their eyes if they should rub their eyes.
The white membranes inside a pepper contain the most capsaicin, and the actual flesh of the pepper contains less. The seeds of the pepper don’t contain any capsaicin at all.
Capsaicin may also stimulate the production of endorphins, which is why some people report experiencing a sense of euphoria when eating spicy foods.
Capsaicin is an oil-like compound in the sense that it repels water. Therefore, drinking water to soothe the burning caused by eating chilis isn’t particularly effective, other than the cooling effect if the water happens to be cold. Capsaicin is soluble in milk and alcohol, however. So a sip of cold milk, or to a lesser extent, a cold alcoholic beverage, can soothe the burning feeling from capsaicin.
Interestingly, while all mammals are sensitive to capsaicin, making it unappealing to rabbits and other such garden pests, birds are immune to its effects.
Capsaicin has a number of non-culinary applications, including as a pain reliever and as the active ingredient in pepper spray.
The mysterious correlation of heat and peppers is answered with capsaicin. Not only is it unique, but it’s oddly beneficial for the body. Capsaicin is used for medical conditions such as arthritis pain, neuropathic pain, dermatologic conditions, even skin conditions. Its chemical compounds can be used to alleviate pain, even though it ironically induces slight pain when eating peppers.
Are you feeling spicy food tonight? Add some zesty capsaicin to your diet with a dish from our Acapulcos Mexican Restaurants. Visit our location to get hands on experience with capsaicin, and discover why we can’t get enough of it.