RECIPE: Some important facts for using chilli

THE chilli, a variety of capsicum, belongs to the Solanaceae family of vegetables, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants. Chillies seem to have originated in South America and were cultivated in ancient times. Christopher Columbus took some back to Europe with him and they soon spread throughout Asia and Africa.

The heat in chillies comes from peppery compounds called capsaicins. This is located in the membrane holding the seeds. For less heat remove both the membrane and the seeds.

All unripe chillies are green. When ripe, they can be shades of red, yellow, and orange, as well as green. Size and colour are not necessarily indicators of heat.

Dietary Value

Chillies are rich in vitamin C, niacin and beta carotene. They contain no fat or salt and are supposed to be good for dieters as they speed up metabolism. Chillies stimulate gastric juices and aid digestion. They also have anti-bacterial qualities.

Scientific Findings

In response to the tongue being burnt by chillies, the brain secretes endorphins, a naural pain reliever. This tends to produce a "high", so chillies can be addictive! Natural therapists may include a little chilli in anti-flu mixtures to eliminate viruses and relieve congestion. Ointments and lotions containing capsaicin are used to relieve pain and itching. The stimulation of nerves by capsaicin can produce tears and a runny nose which removes irritants. Scientists believe that when you eat a lot of chillies some nerve cells in the mouth die, which is why some people can tolerate more and more chilli.

Helpful Hints

Take care when handling chillies as they can burn skin and eyes. Wear rubber gloves or wash hands after handling and don't rub eyes.

To relieve the burning sensation try yoghurt, milk or other dairy products, cucumber or salt.

To remove some of the heat from chillies, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes before scraping away the seeds and membranes and chopping up the flesh.

Fresh chillies can be frozen in a plastic freezer bag for months. When you want to use them, just take them out of the bag and chop up whilst still frozen.

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