Accessing and Handling Chilies

Accessing and Handling Chilies

Be careful if you are just beginning an acquaintance with chilies. They are to be treated with respect at all times, no matter whether they are fire-engine red or a pale, innocent green. Even with larger chilies, don't be lulled into a false sense of security if the tip of a chili is so mild that you wonder what all the fuss is about. As it nears the stem, seeds and placenta, heat ratings rise.

Remember the rule that the smaller the chili, the hotter it is. Test the truth of this by (cautiously) tasting the tiny bird's eye chili (prik kee noo suan) so popular in Thai food. Don't pop it into your mouth and chew on it, just bite the tip and touch it to your tongue. That will do for a start. Milk or yoghurt is the antidote, and a teaspoonful of sugar helps too.

Another very hot variety is the habanero, a wonderfully fruity but exceedingly hot chili prized among West Indians, which belongs to a different species, Capsicum chinense.

Handling chilies : If slicing or chopping chilies, it is a wise precaution to wear disposable plastic gloves. Holding a chili by the stem and snipping it with scissors or a sharp knife can be done without making contact with the pungent capsaicin, a phenolic compound found mostly where the seeds are attached to the central membrane known botanically as the placenta, and the paler-colored partitions inside the fruit. This doesn't mean, however, that only the seeds are hot. The fleshy walls of a chili can also provide plenty of heat.

If you have been handling chilies before reading this and your hands are on fire, make a paste of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and cool water and apply it to the affected parts. It won't work miracles, but will help somewhat. Keep your hands out of hot water too - the heat seems to rise the intensity of the chili burn to a most uncomfortable degree. Whatever you do, don't touch your eyes. Wash the board and knife used for chilies with cold water and kitchen salt.

Medicinal uses : The capsaicin of chilies does have a medical application, in the truest sense of the word. It is used in plasters to be applied externally in cases of severe muscle pain, acting in much the same way as the pleasantly 'hot' menthol creams. Internally, chili and all members of the capsicum family are rich in vitamin C. They are reputed to help keep capillaries from hardening, thus lessening the risk of cardiovascular disease.

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