Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Measuring The Burn

I've had four conversations in the past three weeks involving chilli and chilli sauce, so I decided to do a blog post that includes an example of the Scorville scale. 

The Scoville scale is a measurement of the spicy heat of a chilli pepper. The number of Scoville heat units indicates the amount of capsaicin present in a chilli or chilli sauce.  Capsaicin is the chemical compound that stimulates the nerve endings in the skin and create the burning sensation. The Scorville scale measures chilli peppers and their products by how much water is required to dilute the capsaicin.  Due to variations in growing conditions, soil and weather, etc, the heat scale can vary between harvests.

Here's a small selection of chilli peppers and their Scorville rating.
Sweet Bell pepper  0
Pimento  100 - 200 
Tuscan peppers  100 - 500
New Mexico pepper  500 - 1,000 
JalapeƱo  2,500 - 5,000 
Hot Wax pepper  5,000 - 10,000 
Tabasco pepper   30,000 - 50,000 
Thai pepper   50,000 - 100,000
Habanero  100,000 - 350,000
Caribbean Red  120,000 - 400,000
Ghost Chilli   800,000 - 1,041,000
Common Pepper spray  2,000,000
Police grade Pepper spray  5,300,000
Homodihydrocapsaicin  8,600,000
Nordihydrocapsaicin  9,100,000
Pure Capsaicin  16,000,000

Capsaicinoids are not soluble in water, but very soluble in fats, oils and alcohol, this is why drinking water won't stop the burn.  To get some relief from a chilli burn, drink milk or eat ice-cream. Milk contains casein, a substance that surrounds and washes away the fatty capsaicin molecules the same way that soap washes away grease.

When you eat chilli you experience the burn as the capsaicin binds to receptors in your mouth, but the rest of the gastro intestinal tract are not lined with the same receptors and hence you do not experience burning as the hot meal makes its way through you.  Capsaicin is not broken down completely by digestion so what exits through the back door still contains a reasonable amount of the chemical. 

Where the intestinal tract ends (you know which part I'm talking about) there are large numbers of nerve receptors which is why you get ring burn the following day.  If it gets too bad you could make yourself an icecream enema.  But the important thing is that  you don't start dragging your arse around on the dining room carpet like your pet.

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