The history and science behind hot peppers

It seems there are all kinds of varieties of hot peppers

From mild peppers to moderate ones, to peppers that reach the extreme top of the hot pepper scale. It’s believed peppers have been around for thousands of years, but they weren’t widely known about in all corners of the globe. Things began to change when Christopher Columbus made his voyage to the New World. It’s believed chiles likely originated in South America. About 6,000 years ago, they were domesticated in parts of northern Central America and Mexico. Around the 16th Century, peppers came to Europe.

That’s a little history lesson when it comes to hot peppers.

These days, there are five domesticated species of chili peppers, and each year more than three million tons of chili peppers are produced. That’s a $4 billion dollar market. About 25-percent of people in the world eat chilies every day. That’s a lot of peppers! But what about the science behind chili peppers? While people often love hot peppers, no other animal on the planet is attracted to hot peppers. Mammals, such as squirrels and mice, usually avoid them, if possible. Some argue that’s because humans see the health benefits, or possibly even the “thrill” of eating hot peppers. Studies have suggested that capsaicin is naturally part of hot peppers because it helps keep pests away.

Birds sometimes eat hot peppers, but they don’t register the “heat” because they have different receptors than we do.

It’s likely it may be an adaptation, because birds never digest or even chew the pepper seeds, but rather transport them to other places. So, what about putting out the “fire” when you do eat hot peppers? There’s some science to that, too. The casein in milk helps put out the “flames” by attracting capsaicin molecules, much like soap gets rid of grease. On the other hand, water is ineffective when you eat a hot pepper, because it can’t bond with capsaicin.

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