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Pictured above; A Thai Pepper


The Chili is a name given to several members of the Capsicum family. Capsicum is a genus of plants related to the tomato in the nightshade family, whose fruit is used as a spice, vegetable, and medicine. Cultivated since prehistoric times in Peru and Mexico, it was discovered in the Caribbean by Columbus and named a "pepper" because of its similarity with the Old World peppers of the Piper genus. Diego Alvarez Chanca, a physician on Columbus' second voyage to the West Indies in 1493, brought the first capsicums to Spain, and first wrote about their medicinal effects in 1494.

The fruit is boxlike, conical, or spherical and filled with air. It has 2 to 4 vertical ribs on the inside, which may carry seeds; but the bulk of the seeds are on a dome at the stem end. Capsicums vary in horticulturally ripe colour and may be green, yellow, orange, bright red, lavender, brownish purple, or other colors depending on variety and on what stage of botanical ripeness is considered best for use.

Only a handful of the many species of Capsicum are cultivated, but there are many cultivars and methods of preparation that have different common names. C. annuum includes bell peppers, pimentos, paprika, and poblano, jalapeño, Anaheim, New Mexico, and Serrano chiles; C. frutescens includes cayenne, tabasco, arbol, aji, pequin and cherry chiles; C. chinense includes the hottest chiles such as habaneros and Scotch bonnets; C. pubescens includes the South American rocoto; and C. baccatum includes the chiltepin.

The substances that give chiles their heat are the lipophile alkaloid capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) and four related chemicals, collectively called capsaicinoids. Each capsaicinoid has a different effect on the mouth, and variation in the proportions of these chemical is responsible for the differing sensations produced by different varieties. Capsaicin causes pain and inflammation if consumed to excess, and can even burn the skin on contact in high concentrations (habaneros, for example, are routinely picked with gloves). It is also the primary ingredient in pepper spray, which is used as a defensive weapon. The "heat" of chiles is measured in Scoville units. Bell peppers rank at zero Scoville units, jalapeños at 3,000-6,000 Scoville units, and habaneros at 300,000 Scoville units. The record for the highest number of Scoville units in a chile is assigned by the Guinness Book of Records to the Red Savina Habanero, measuring 577,000 units!

The hot flavor of chiles is concentrated at the stem end of the fruit, where the white placental tissue produces capsaicin, which then flows downwards. Removing the seeds and inner membranes is thus effective at reducing the heat of a chile.

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Quick Facts
Chinese Chopsticks taper to a rounded end, Japanese taper to a pointed end and Korean taper to a blunted end.
Chopsticks are traditionally held in the right hand only, and in East Asia, as in Muslim nations, the left hand is used in the toilet.


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