Wednesday Wonders: Chillies

When you hear the word chillies, what immediately pops into your head? For me it’s heat and lots of it depending upon the type of chilli. Some people love them, others hate them but for me they are something I love to grow and eat. I make it my quest each year to grow a different variety. They do say after all that variety is the spice of life. This year I was given seeds for chillies called ‘Paper Lanterns’, a very hot type of chilli, which I’m sure will ‘give an extra kick’ to the sauce I intend to make once they have ripened. Next year, and yes I have already bought the seeds, I am going to grow chillies called ‘Twilight’. Not too hot, but with a variety of different colours. Very excited!

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My very first paper lantern chilli.

You may be wondering as I blab on, why on earth I chose this as my topic for Wednesday Wonders. Well we all know chillies can be mild to very, very hot but why do they leave that burning sensation in your mouth once you’ve taken a bite? What was the reason for chillies to evolve like this? I can’t think of any other fruiting vegetable in the garden that leaves such a memorable aftershock.

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Cayenne pepper chillies ripening on the plant.

DID YOU KNOW? Chillies are from the same family as tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and potatoes.

The chemical found in chillies is called capsaicin and when it comes into contact with our nervous system, it creates that tingling sensation. I always thought the spiciest part of a chilli was its seeds, however, recently I read, the hottest part are the fibres that hold the seeds to the inside of the chilli.

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Close up of chilli seeds on the fibres.

The reason why chillies leave a hot after taste is all to do with evolution and to aid in the dispersal of seeds out in the wild. When a human eats a chilli’s seeds, they are destroyed and the plant is unable to continue it’s family line. The heat from the peppery pods is therefore meant to repel mammals from eating them and also from destroying their seeds. Birds, on the other hand, are more tolerant and have been noted to be immune to the capsaicin in chillies. When a bird eats a chilli, the seeds are not destroyed in its digestive system and yes you guessed it, when the bird has to go to the toilet, the seeds leave the bird’s body fully intact and are able to grow into plants and continue for another generation. Despite their intense heat, these clever chillies really are ‘cool’.

 

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