Chilis: a Question of Taste


With winter starting to bite, there’s nothing quite like the savory heat of a chili-seasoned dish or drink to chase the cold away. But let’s not be silly about it.

Like other members of the pepper family, chilis are delicious, with a subtle, bittersweet taste. But that’s not what they’re famous for – because it’s all about fire. The substance that set the roof of your mouth alight is capsaicin – and it fools your nervous system into thinking you’re in pain, raising your heart rate and releasing a flood of endorphins. That’s the attraction of spicy-hot food: pain without damage. It’s a highly addictive experience. The only problem for thrill-seeking chili chompers is that our bodies adapt marvelously – and taste buds quickly learn to take the heat. So – you guessed it – a hotter type of chili is called for, with the goal of enduring the world’s fiercest chili always on the horizon. It’s a game, an obsession, a rite of passage…and evidently, a killer.

Except in moderation. Red chilli peppers are packed with Vitamin C and carotene, and all peppers are rich in vitamin B. And that “bad” capsaicin has been associated with all sorts of health benefits from the relief of arthritic pain to combatting ulcers.

Although it’s a vegetable, a chilli pepper is so chemically powerful that we treat it as a spice – and like all spices, there’s a point where you’ve just put too much in a recipe for your own good. (My preference: perspiring is fine, tears are a no-no and writhing agony is simply more appropriate for tax time). A cup of Aztec hot chocolate on a bitterly cold day should leave you glowing, not burning – and ready to enjoy your next cup just as much as this one.

Image: benny yap

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.