July 25, 2020

Chili pungency

Early voyagers to the Americas, including Central America, Mexico, Peru, and Chile, found many forms of peppers, among them the ‘hot’ (pungent) ones. In Spain these hot peppers are called chili, meaning from Chile, and in India, chillies. Chili comes in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors and in different degrees of pungency.

The basic sensation produced by chili peppers is extreme pungency or ‘heat’. The substance that produces all of the heat sensation is known as capsaicin (N vanillyl-8-methyl-6- (E)-noneamide). Capsaicin is a flavorless, odorless and colorless compound found in varying amounts in peppers.

Capsaicin is made by specialized gland cells found in the cross walls or ribs of the pepper and is composed of several different alkaloids which vary in amounts depending on the species.

Capsaicin, a homovanillic acid derivative (8-methyl-N-vanillyl6-nonenamide), is an active component of the red pepper. The level of the capsaicin in a seasoned pepper is around 0.025%, and in the hot pepper around 0.25%.

Capsaicin represents 69% in the group of capsacinoids; dihydrocapsacinoids with 22%; nordihydrocapsacinoids with 7%; and homocapsaicin and homohydrocapsaicin represents only 1% in the group of capsaicinoids.

The hottest chilli pepper ever recorded was a Habanero which had 577,000 Scoville pungency units while in contrast the fiery Jalapeno has between 2,500 and 10,000 units, and in complete contrast the Sweet Italian Bell Pepper has a pungency of 0 units.

The number of Scoville heat units (SHU) indicates the amount of capsaicin present in a particular pepper. The scale was developed in 1912 by American chemist Wilbur Scoville, to rate the pungency or heat of peppers.

The sensations of heat and pain in the mouth are the result of the stimulation of local heat receptors in the skin and mucous membranes by capsaicin. The capsaicin (vanilloid) receptor VR1 is a sensory neuron-specific ion channel that serves as a polymodal detector of pain-producing chemical and physical stimuli.
Chili pungency

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