Eating Hot Hot Hot

Indonesia, Mexico, India, The West Indies – places known for the heat in their sun, and the heat on their plates. If I’m feeling adventurous in Jamaica, I’ll go for spice with my breakfast omelette. I mean: I’m half-Jamaican. I can handle it, right?

‘Spice’ is scooped out of a white bowl of minced, soupy brew.

“So, spice is chopped peppers and…?”


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Why do so many hot, hot countries serve up so many hot, hot peppers?




It’s a brain tease, says the ‘Chileman’, Dr. Paul Bosland – professor of horticulture at New Mexico State University. The capsaicin in hot chiles binds with pain receptors in the mouth, creating heat sensations without jacking up body temperature. The brain reacts as thought it’s in the presence of environmental heat, and triggers a cooling sweat response.

It’s a safety thing, say Cornell biologists Jennifer Billing and Paul Sherman. Powerful antimicrobial compounds in pungent spices kill the bacteria and fungi that are more likely to flourish in food left out in the heat. In analyzing over 4500 meat, fish and poultry recipes in 93 traditional cookbooks, Billing found that spice use rose with climate.

And which chile pepper takes the coveted heat crown?

Researchers from the New Mexico State Chili Pepper Institute planted over 120 notoriously hot plants, including the fearsome Bhut Jolokia, the Chocolate 7-pot, the Trinidad Scorpion, and the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion. The peppers were harvested, dried, ground, then robbed of their capsaicinoids.

Hottest by far was the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, which registered at over 2 million Scoville Heat Units. By comparison, the Jalapeño pepper came in at somewhere between 2500 and 10,000 SHU’s. How hot were these Trinidadian peppers? These peppers were so hot that they ate through the team’s latex gloves, and burned into their hands. Don’t be fooled by a seemingly mild first bite. Moruga Scorpion pain builds and builds.

Although it may not work so well on the killer Moruga, hot pepper heat can be dulled by the Casein in dairy products. If  you do find yourself in Trinidad with generous hosts who offer you ‘spice’ with your omelette, you might want to probe for some pepper particulars.



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Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton