Sunday, August 17, 2008


Chillies with varying capsaicin contents, responsible for their 'heat' value or the burning sensation are unique and why nature has endowed this crop with such a property has been debated amongst scientists. Generally such extraordinary properties are linked to survival of the species in a wild world where there are more enemies than friends. Could it be that chillies have not become extinct because of the presence of capsaicin inside which many living creatures including some segments of human population cannot tolerate? It is nature's way of ensuring that all living creatures live in harmony that many such weaklings are endowed with survival kits helping them to ward off indiscriminate destruction by pests and hostile microbes.

It has now been confirmed by some scientists that capsaicin does confer protection to chillies. In many growing areas fungal attack on chillies makes the seeds unviable, incapable of germination and multiplication. The fungus Fusarium, most commonly present in chilies was found to be affected adversely by capsaicin and consequently the growth of this destructive microorganism is considerably slowed down. While many predators like mammals and other species are repelled by chillies' hotness experience on the palate, birds are known to be insensitive to the heat sensation when chillies are consumed. The birds thus help to disperse chili seeds and help their propagation. Capsaicin present in the desippament, not in the seeds, varies in concentration in different varieties of chillies. Some have practically no capsaicin while most others boast of heat values estimated at several million Scoville units. The scientific observation that lower the Scoville value more vulnerable are the chillies to Fusarium attack confirms the conclusion that capsaicin is a potent weapon in the armory of chilies to fight for survival.

Chili, with its capsaicin content, also provides humans with a food ingredient that helps to fight many diseases afflicting them. The populations in regions lying within 20 degrees of the equator on either side are prolific consumers of chilies and they are not known to be affected by many diseases that are common beyond the tropics. While very little work is going on to elucidate many beneficial claims attributed to chili, occasional studies like the above are compelling to invest more on research in this area. India is one of the countries where chili is a part and parcel of the diets and the older generations still are free of many of the health ailments the present generation is facing. This can be attributed massive shift in consumption habits influenced by western influences where chili never finds a place. Aversion to Chillies in the country amongst younger generation is a disturbing phenomenon and probably more parental efforts are called for to reinvent the 'Chili Culture' for the benefit of the future generation.


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