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
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.