..... Stumper Index
Stumper #25.
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- Hot Stuff! -

Archeological evidence suggests that chilies (Capsicum species, family Solanaceae) were part of the diet of people living 9,000 years ago in Mexico, and Central and South America; and it is believed that Columbus took Capsicum plants back with him to Europe at the end of the 15th century.

Capsicum fruits ripen to various yellow-orange-red colors and vary in shape. They are used as a vegetable (the mild varieties) or as a hot, spicy flavoring and are quite interesting from a nutritional viewpoint. When you eat a mild pepper, in addition to some protein, a little fat and some sugar, you are benefiting from carotenes (vitamin C precursors) as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins A, B2, and B6. Also present is tryptophan, a natural relaxant; lysine which ensures the adequate absorption of calcium and helps form collagen in cartilage and connective tissues; and phenylalanine which is used by the brain to produce norepinephrine, a chemical that transmits signals between nerve cells and the brain, keeps you awake and alert, reduces hunger pains, functions as an antidepressant and helps improve memory. Wow!

What makes the hot chili peppers taste "hot", is the presence of capsaicin, a chemical that affects a cell membrane in such a way that calcium ions flood into the cell. This ultimately triggers a pain signal similar to that produced when a cell is exposed to heat. Chili burns and heat burns are similar at the molecular, cellular, and sensory levels.

There are different capsaicin-like (capsaicinoid) compounds found in chilies and the slight structural variations in the molecule, changes their ability to bind to the nerve receptors and their ability to penetrate layers of receptors on the tongue, mouth, and throat. This may explain why some chilies burn in the mouth, while others burn deep in the throat.

Capsaicinoids are not soluble in water, but are very soluble in fats, oils and alcohol. They are unique compared with other spicy substances, such as piperine (black pepper) and gingerol (ginger) in that they cause a long-lasting selective desensitization to pain and discomfort, as a result of repeated doses. The result is an increasing ability to tolerate ever hotter foods. Surprisingly the ability of capsaicin to cause pain also makes it useful in alleviating pain and it is often applied topically as a counter irritant in the treatment of arthritis and other chronically-painful conditions.

Question: After eating an especially hot chili, what might be an effective thing to eat or drink to reduce the burning sensation?

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