Google Doodle honors peppermeister Wilbur Scoville

Today’s Google Doodle, an animation (access it by clicking on the screenshot blow), honors the 151st birthday of Wilbur Scoville (1865-1942), an American chemist. In 1912, Scoville devised the “Scoville Organoleptic Test,” a way to quantify the spiciness of chile peppers. Now, of course, breeders all over the world compete to grow the spiciest chiles with the highest Scoville rating.

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Here’s a video of the animation; Google’s story about the making of the Doodle is here.

In 2013 the New Yorker had a nice article, “Fire-Eaters” (free online) about breeders’ informal competition to grow the hottest chile. It ends with the teaser that Butch Taylor, a Louisiana plumber who breeds chiles as a hobby, was producing a really wicked one:

Before we came inside, Taylor had shown me his greenhouse, where he tends his most precious plants. A single bush dominated the small hut. Hanging from its branches were an assortment of pods, some of them deep red and some of them a faint green. The plant, which was not yet stable, was the third generation of an accidental cross of a 7-Pot Jonah and, most likely, a Trinidad Scorpion Butch T. Taylor was calling it the WAL—the Wicked-Ass Little 7-Pot. He shook a branch, unleashing a swarm of flies, and picked a pod from the stem. “Just off the top of my head, the first one I tasted, I’d say two million Scovilles,” he said. “But it may just be a freak of nature. You get those now and then.”

Below is Wikipedia’s diagram of the Scoville scale, with the Carolina Reaper still holding out over the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper. Here’s how the ratings are achieved, a combination of objective methodology and subjective assessment (unavoidable when it comes to matters of taste perception):

In Scoville’s method, an exact weight of dried pepper is dissolved in alcohol to extract the heat components (capsinoids), then diluted in a solution of sugar water. Decreasing concentrations of the extracted capsinoids are given to a panel of five trained tasters, until a majority (at least three) can no longer detect the heat in a dilution. The heat level is based on this dilution, rated in multiples of 100 SHU.

A weakness of the Scoville Organoleptic Test is its imprecision due to human subjectivity, depending on the taster’s palate and their number of mouth heat receptors, which varies greatly among people. Another weakness is sensory fatigue the palate is quickly desensitised to capsaicins after tasting a few samples within a short time period. Results vary widely, ± 50%, between laboratories.

Notice that jalapeño peppers, which most people consider hot, come in at a wimpy 1000-4000 Scoville units.

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The active ingredient in chiles—the stuff that makes them hot—is the compound capsaicin, although other related compounds (“capsaicinoids”) contribute to the heat as well. Below is the diagram of a capsaicin molecule; it and its relatives probably evolved as protective compound in wild chiles, deterring attacks by herbivores and fungi. Humans have taken advantage of that protection by simply breeding for more and more of the hot metabolites.

Apparently birds, who disperse wild pepper seeds, don’t react to capsaicinoids, while mammalian herbivores, who would crunch the seeds and destroy the plant’s ability to pass on its genes, react adversely. This is probably not a case of true coevolution; I suspect that plants producing fleshy bits containing capsacinoids (seeds don’t themselves contain the compounds) left more genes than those that didn’t simply because birds already lacked the receptors for the compounds while mammals had them.

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Capsaicin

There is in fact, a Wikipedia article about Guinness’s Official World’s Hottest Pepper, the Carolina Reaper, also known as HP22B, bred in South Carolina and coming in at a scorching 1,569,300 Scoville units.  (One was rated at 2.2 million Scoville Units.) Here’s what they look like:

Carolina_Reaper_pepper_pods

You can buy seeds and Reaper Hot Sauce from the PuckerButt Pepper Company (sauce here; hottest seeds here). I dare any reader to try one of these (warning: do not ingest “Reaper Venum” directly):

reaper_squeezins_black1_1024x1024

Reaper_Venum_1024x1024

If you want something hotter, there are pure capsicum extracts, hotter than the hottest pepper available, here, as well as a panoply of hot sauces having various degrees of tongue-destruction.

Oh, and here’s Scoville himself, a man who had no idea what monster he’d created:

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63 Comments

  1. Posted January 22, 2016 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    The hottest (picante, not caliente) thing I ever put in my mouth was the hot sauce, home-made at Dixie’s Barbeque in Bellevue, WA, called “The Man”.

    Enough to make very stoic men cry, literally.

    Whoo-baby! Have you met The Man?!

  2. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I’ve never understood the predilection of Americans (in particular) for painfully hot food.

    • Posted January 22, 2016 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      There is some young men, macho, one-upsmanship involved.

      I got over it a long time ago. Still like spicy food; but never “challenge the chef” spicy.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 22, 2016 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

        [Exhale] Paint stripped] [Dare not inhale]

    • Posted January 22, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      I love spicy food, but I have my limits. When buying hot sauce, I’m always amazed how they all trumpet themselves as the hottest. I want the best tasting, not the hottest. No matter who you are, there is such a thing as too hot.

      • darrelle
        Posted January 22, 2016 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        Completely agree. I could care less how hot it is, how does it taste! At this point I’ve got nothing but derision for the myriad pepper sauces that are nothing but heat + vinegar.

        • Mark R.
          Posted January 22, 2016 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

          Agree, and pure capsaicin hot sauces (I’ve tried a couple) have an unpleasant chemical taste. Nothing like chili flavor. Though they have great names. I remember one called “Satan’s Blood” that I got in New Orleans. Awesome design of the label, and hotter than hell, but tasted like crap. I had to throw it out, and it wasn’t cheap!

          • Posted January 22, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

            Oddly enough, those pure capsaicin hot sauces are pretty much a milder version of being pepper sprayed. When I first began to work as a news videoographer, I was assigned the, as predictable as it is silly, piece in which the reporter agrees to be pepper sprayed on camera by a police officer. The officer got a little overzealous and the wind blew the spray in my direction covering the portion of my face not portected by the viewfinder. Being pepper-sprayed is much more intense, but the unpleasant taste was opretty much the same. It’s beyond me why anyone would want ot put that on food.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 22, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

        What did I say a few moments ago? Oh yes, “challenge” (PCCE to provide flame-thrower for incineration.
        PCC(e) : Chicago gunshops run to flame throwers?

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 22, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Me neither!

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 22, 2016 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of genetic explantions.
        If chilli-philes have their contests, can bland-o-philes do their own?
        We’re back to alternative forms of water-boarding, aren’t we?

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 23, 2016 at 12:48 am | Permalink

          LOL!

          Actually, when I lived in Texas and was frequently eating a lot of Tex-Mex and sometimes actual authentic Mexican food, I did build up a bit more tolerance, to the point that I did enjoy hotter & hotter salsas, etc. I can’t say I did the experiment, but I’d be rather sure there’d be a point beyond which I could not go…

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 23, 2016 at 3:27 am | Permalink

        I’ll second … umm, third that!

        cr

    • darrelle
      Posted January 22, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      Sometimes it involves free beer!

      As a poor college student I used to take advantage of my (then) tolerance for spicy hot foods to drink free at a local oyster bar. They had a standing challenge which was that anyone who could eat one of their “Red Rooster” concoctions in one bite earned a free beer.

      The “Red Rooster” was a saltine cracker with a raw oyster mounded over with grated horseradish, then liberally soaked in a very hot pepper sauce (think XXX hot habanero pepper sauce), and finally liberally coated in cayenne pepper.

      The finished size of the Red Rooster was near the limit of what could fit in the average mouth if the person is making a good effort. The first trick of trying to eat one was to be very careful not to get any of it on your lips or around the outside of your mouth. The next trick was to very carefully control your breathing. With your mouth filled to such a capacity that it is difficult to chew, you don’t want to accidentally inhale cayenne pepper. That is an instant, painful and rather violent fail.

      The bartenders hated to see me coming. They’d try building them bigger and badder and then we would bargain about how much beer it was worth.

      Nowadays, I still like to eat spicy food, but my waste disposal department really doesn’t like it. Usually strongly protests for at least a day afterwards.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 22, 2016 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

        Hmm, I don’t thing that challenge would have survived our vultures.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted January 22, 2016 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

          or even thingk?

    • Mark R.
      Posted January 22, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      For one, hot foods cool you down in hot weather by making you sweat. Eating spicy food also releases endorphins to block the pain of the heat.

      Over time, the body can build resistance to spicy food, just as it does with alcohol. The sensation of heat is subjective, even if the actual Scoville units are objective.

      I remember when habaneros first became widely available in the US (15 years ago?) I could barely eat a tiny piece. But I loved the flavor, so never stopped adding them to salsas and sauces. Back then I could only add a half habanero to salsa to get the proper kick. Nowadays I make straight habanero salsa: roasted habaneros, lime, salt, garlic and water. And when making a traditional pico de gallo, I’ll add two or three instead of just a half like I used to. It’s still freakin’ hot, but not unbearable like it once was. And again, the flavor of habanero is sublime.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 22, 2016 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        These things have a flavour outside the tongue-denucleating burn? You jest!

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 22, 2016 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

        Over time, the body can build resistance to spicy food, just as it does with alcohol.

        I am sure the same is true for, for example, arsenic.
        This is a recommendation, or a warning?

        • Mark R.
          Posted January 22, 2016 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

          Yes, taste exists within heat. Have you read some others on this post regarding the matter? You can’t die from hot peppers unless you are in really poor health and eat mass amounts. Sort of a suburban myth really. And arsenic is a real poor comparison. Chilies aren’t poison after all.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted January 22, 2016 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

            They may not technically be a poison. They’re a “let’s not come back here” though.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted January 23, 2016 at 3:37 am | Permalink

              ‘The dose makes the poison’ – Paracelsus.

              I’m prepared to believe chilis are not poisonous in quantities less, for example, than the allowable exposure to dimethyl mercury or hydrogen fluoride…

              cr

  3. Hempenstein
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Crimony – Pequins top out where Habaneros start? I wouldda thought they’d at least be equals. Anyway, bought a bag of Ghosts last week. Haven’t sampled any yet, but I have a string of them drying by the stovepipe of the woodburner.

    • Posted January 22, 2016 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Be sure to was your hands!

    • Mark R.
      Posted January 22, 2016 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      I bought some dried ghost chiles last year. I ground one down (tiny thing) in a mortar and pestle with garlic and salt and added it to a 2-avocado guacamole. I pretty much ruined it. I could have salvaged it by adding 3 or 4 more avocados, but didn’t want to make that much as it doesn’t keep very long.

      So I’d start with a quarter pepper and go from there. They do have a nice flavor though similar to habaneros.

  4. ChrisH
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I’m not really a fan of sauces that use extracts. They have a noticable aftertaste to them!

  5. Kevin
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Everyday my diet contains capsaicin; I am addicted and even have mild withdrawal symptoms. I have often wondered if there is any detriment (cancer/ulcers)?

    • Mark R.
      Posted January 22, 2016 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      I’m like you. A day without capsaicin is a day I didn’t eat well. When eaten, capsaicin produces endorphins to counter the heat, so maybe that’s why you have mild withdrawal symptoms.

      The benefits from eating capsaicin by far outweigh any detrimental effects (unless the person is highly sensitive to it, which you’re not). One study (I think I heard it on AP news) linked high capsaicin intake to lower cancer risk. Also, capsaicin inhibits acid secretion and stimulates mucous production and is actually beneficial for people with stomach ulcers.

  6. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    When in grad school where I majored in Entomology, we were taught plenty about the various ‘secondary plant compounds’ which plants make to influence animals. Among these were the ‘cucurbitacins’ made by squashes. These are bitter tasting and so discouraging to mammals, but some squash eating insects are attracted to them.
    Anyway, domesticated squashes are bred to have low levels of these chemicals, so we can eat squashes.
    On a field trip to some research plots, however, the T.A. showed us a variety of squashes that were bred to have high levels of cucurbitacins. These were aswarm with squash bugs. The idea there was that growers could keep some of these around to attract the pest insects, then periodically clobber them with an insecticide.
    He cut some slivers off of a fruit, and dared us to have a taste. It was among the more horrible gustatory experiences I ever had!

  7. Jonathan Dore
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Sorry, but the whole culture around chillies is riddled with pathetic machismo. A jalapeno is about as hot as anyone could reasonably want while still having a recognizable taste. Beyond that chillies effectively contribute no flavour at all to food — simply a mouth sensation, and one that becomes progressively more painful and damaging the hotter it gets. If it doesn’t feel hot any more, it’s because the receptors are already damaged (or at least temporarily numbed). Jamie Oliver, whose recipes I otherwise really like, has a real problem with chillies.

    Being proud of having damaged tastebuds, which is what hot-chili enthusiasts are effectively crowing about, is as nonsensical as being proud that you’re so deaf you can turn your death metal up to 130db.

    Take a cue from natural selection: capsaicins are a warning *not* to eat something. People who ignore that kind of warning end up being candidates for the Darwin Award.

    • Posted January 22, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      the whole culture around chillies is riddled with pathetic machismo. A jalapeno is about as hot as anyone could reasonably want while still having a recognizable taste. Beyond that chillies effectively contribute no flavour at all to food — simply a mouth sensation, and one that becomes progressively more painful and damaging the hotter it gets

      I’m with you.

      • Mark R.
        Posted January 22, 2016 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        Not me.

        I eat very hot food in the privacy of my home. No machismo whatsoever.

        Chilies have terrific flavor! Habaneros tropical and fruity, serranos and jalapenos earthy, a little bitter and herbaceous, dried chilies lend smokiness and depth (especially chipotles, dried and smoke jalapenos). Then there are guajillos, anchos, pasillas and chili de arbol. All have different levels of heat and different flavors. It’s all a matter of balancing the amount used to a person’s natural sensitivity to capsaicin.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 22, 2016 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      Sure, it is crazy. But it is an expression of competition and danger seeking. These traits put us on the moon.

    • Posted January 22, 2016 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      “Beyond that chillies effectively contribute no flavour at all to food — simply a mouth sensation, and one that becomes progressively more painful and damaging the hotter it gets.”

      Simply not true. There is quite a flavor distinction between a Jalapeno, Habanero, Thai chile, and Naga Balut. And appreciating a moderately spicy dish with these distinct flavors is hardly machismo. That’s like saying liquor is all about showing off because pea-brained frat-boys drink straight everclear and hit beer bongs and that Whiskey is about as strong as anyone can really enjoy and there is no difference between scotch, whiskey, tequila and rum because they have no distinct flavors anyways.

      • Jonathan Dore
        Posted January 22, 2016 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

        Fascinating, thanks Justin. Clearly your tastebuds work differently from mine. All I get from chillis, at virtually any concentration, is a tongue that’s simultaneously numb and painful, preventing any actual flavour from being experienced. I’ve never found a strength or level of chilli use that equates to moderate social drinking as opposed to frat boy drinking. And there’s certainly no equivalent in alcohol to the numbing effect of chillies.

    • Posted January 22, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      First of all, you’re not really damaging your taste buds:
      http://www.livescience.com/34213-spicy-food-taste-buds-myth.html

      I’m one of those people that likes very spicy foods, right up to the threshold of them being unbearable. Maybe it’s the endorphins. Who knows? When I was younger, jalapeños were about as hot as I could reasonably want. But, as you eat spicy food and become desensitized, it takes something just a bit spicier the next time to get the same effect. So now, an average jalapeño is just so-so spicy to me, and I have to go for hotter hot sauces.

      I’ve read somewhere (not sure where, anymore), that the tolerance for spicy foods depends on ‘practice’. In other words, quit eating spicy foods for a few years, and jalapeños will return to being really spicy again.

      • Posted January 22, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        My experience is opposite to this.

        I could eat (and enjoy) much hotter things in my youth than now. And I have always continued to eat spicy foods. And I’ve generally been regarded (by others) as having a pretty high tolerance.

  8. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    “Infinity chili” didn’t last long – two week on the top spot – but out of curiosity I stumbled on this gem:

    A restaurant in Grantham called Bindi served a curry, called “The Widower”, made with 20 infinity chilies and claimed to be the worlds hottest curry; after more than three hundred people tried, the first person to finish a dish of curry was Dr. Ian Rothwell, who took just over an hour to finish the dish, reported to measure 6 million SHU and hotter than tear gas, including 10 minutes spent hallucinating due to the endorphin rush. [4][5]

    [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity_chili ; my bold]

    First, I didn’t know you could produce that much endorphines!

    Second, food that makes you hallucinate…

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted January 22, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Oy. “Weeks”.

  9. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Totally unnecessary, parenthetically speaking.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted January 22, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      Please disregard; wrong tab.

  10. Posted January 22, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    One of my students once began to suffer the early stages of hypothermia while exploring a high mountain for new orchid species. He could no longer take notes from shivering, and no longer wanted to move. A local person who was with him made him drink a bottle of tabasco sauce. The resulting heat rush jump-started his metabolism and he was able to come down off the mountain.

    • Jonathan Dore
      Posted January 22, 2016 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Excellent. About the only useful application I can think of.

      • Posted January 22, 2016 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        A small quantity of Tabasco sauce (a few shakes) is wonderful in creamy soups (e.g. New England clam chowder).

        The US Tabasco sauce (McIlhenny Company) has excellent flavor.

        Trivia: The factory that makes it is located over an excellent source of salt, one of the key ingredients.

        • John Conoboy
          Posted January 22, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

          I find Tabasco (which is a McIlhenny brand name, I think) a bit too salty. Visiting the McIlhenny factory on Avery Island in Louisiana is worth the visit.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 22, 2016 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Gah!

  11. Posted January 22, 2016 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Allegedly a true story:

    Some friends of mine were (many years ago, when we were in our early 20s) at a bar drinking beer and eating raw jalapeños.

    Beer doing what it does, one of them heads for the toilet.

    The others hear cries of discomfort emanating from the men’s room.

    The one returns from the men’s sweating and looking upset. He walks up to them ans says, “Make sure you wash your hands before you piss as well as after.”

    • Posted January 22, 2016 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      A bathroom corollary–what burns coming in also burns when coming out..

      • Posted January 22, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        Of yeah, that “Burnin’ Ring of Fire”!

    • Mark R.
      Posted January 22, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      I personally know someone who did this. He was in serious pain for hours.

      When uninitiated, I did this when cutting up chilies without gloves or washing afterwards. I was 18 and just started cooking for myself. An hour later my fingers were on fire and I didn’t know what the hell was happening. It wore off eventually and I forgot about it. Then some time later I learned that capsaicin can indeed burn external skin for hours. Mystery solved! Haven’t had that experience since.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 23, 2016 at 3:25 am | Permalink

        So if it does that to your outsides, think what it must do to your insides.

        I won’t eat anything that requires protective clothing to handle!

        cr

  12. Posted January 22, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Cognitive Dissonance: A homeopath applying the Scoville scale.

  13. Les
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Hot chilis are a flavor enhancer. The hotter Serranos are more flavorful than Jalapeños. Just use a small amount in a big stew. Below what you can directly taste, it seems to open up the taste buds.

    Remove the seeds and ribs of the fruit to bring down the heat.

    How to keep your hands from transferring chili oils to your eyes and nose? If you don’t have gloves, what to do?
    Last time, I put oil on my hands and washed them in soap and water after handling.
    It seemed to work. Anyone else have hints?

    • Posted January 22, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      Washing in soap and water has always worked well for me.

  14. drakodoc
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    A few years ago at a work place pot luck chili cooking contest, one colleague entered his dish hoping to win the spiciest category. It was hot! Three judges, myself being one, developed nausea, diaphoresis and vomiting within two minutes of consuming that particular chili. The chef, who happened to be a gastroenterologist, felt so sorry for us that he went to his clinic and brought for each of us a large bottle of liquid antacid. He never contributed to any more of our pot lucks again.

  15. Posted January 22, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Anyone know about the psychophysics involved? Is there a power law for hotness vs. concentration?

  16. John Conoboy
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I was first introduced to Mexican “hot” sauce in the late 60s while in grad school at UC Davis. Over the years, my tolerance and love of hot spicy food has grown. I don’t find that taste disappears beyond a certain level. I love super hot Sichuan food and love to find Indian restaurants that serve food “Indian hot,” although they are rare. My daughter shares this love of, and tolerance for, extremely hot foods. For christmas she gave me a bottle of Bonney’s Hot Sauce made with Moruga Scorpion peppers. It is lovely. I think I will order the Reaper sauce.

    It is hard to convince the staff in Chinese and Indian restaurants to make food hot, if you are white. I was unable to get really hot Sichuan food in Chengdu no matter how hard I tried. But if I am with my son-in-law who is Chinese, he can get us the good stuff. For anyone in the Washington DC area, check out Joe’s Noodle House (Sichuan) out on Rockville Pike if you like it hot.

  17. Posted January 22, 2016 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Until I clicked on today’s doodle and played the little game, I had no idea that there were any peppers hotter than the Scotch bonnet pepper.
    There must be a pretty healthy market for these extra-hot sauces. It seems as though the collection of little bottles in various hues of red and orange with flames ablaze across the porduct logo gropws by a few each time I visit the supermarket.

  18. squidmaster
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    I like hot chillis! I grow a number of varieties in my garden every year and use them to make sauces, dried chillis and flavor everything while they are in season. Last year, my favorite hot varieties (I grow milder chillis for roasting, also) were ghost, fatalii, aji limon, habanero and some pequins. Ghost chillis, for all the hype about capsaicin levels, make a lovely sauce when roasted and combined with similarly roasted shallots, garlic and carrots. Interestingly, the fatalii, which are not as hot, made a similar sauce that produced a less pleasant burning sensation. One guest remarked that, ‘It felt like putting a battery on my tongue.’

    Capsaicin is an agonist at the vanilloid receptor (also known as TRPV1) which is a cation channel involved in pain sensation periperally. Before you say, ‘Duh!’, consider that vanilloid receptors are also expressed in the CNS, where one of their endogenous ligans is the endocannabinoid, anandamide. Activation of the receptors leads to long term depression in the hippocampus. The central TRVP1 receptors may be responsible for the ‘pepper high’ that some folks report when they ingest chillis.

    On the evolutionary front, birds have vanilloid receptors, they are just insensitive to capsaicin. I’m not sure if *all* birds are insensitive, but chicken receptors don’t respond. To my knowledge, this has not been tested in ostriches, but chickens are pretty basal birds, so this may be a characteristic of all birds. Also, chickens are indigenous to indochina (right?) and peppers evolved in South America, so I agree with PCC that birds were immune to capsaicin from the get go.

    Also, while macho (and unwise) humans frequently appear on youtube eating fresh or dried ghost (or naga, etc) chillis most of the chilli aficionados are just interested in the excitement that capsicums add to food.

  19. Hempenstein
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    Swedes, at least in the ’80s, were generally very averse to capsaicin. So much so, that there was once a warning on the evening news that there had come a shipment of bell peppers into Stockholm that had back-mutated and were hot. Even finding peperoncini was difficult. The only places that seemed to have it were the Turkish kebab stands. Every kebab left with one, and most of those, sadly, could be found in the trash can at the exit.

    But here’s a bio-component that I don’t think has been touched on, revealed by some friends there who inadvertently ran an experiment on a kid they adopted from Sri Lanka. As I recall he was about 6mos when he arrived. He wound up eating the same non-spiced diet as his new parents until one day a good number of yrs later, something with capsaicin found its way into his mouth. It was a revelation! The presumption has been that he was getting it in his mother’s milk – entirely likely given the lipid-solubility of the compound. In the end, things didn’t turn out so well for Arne, and I’ve wondered if it wasn’t in part attributable to having been in capsaicin withdrawal for many years.

  20. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    We had an ornamental pequin pepper bush in our yard when I was growing up, and I remember exchanging dares with my sisters to eat one. Subjectively, I agree they are ~25x to 50x hotter than jalapenos (which I love!) Way too hot to retain any enjoyment value as a foodstuff, but great for showing off as a youngster.

  21. Josh
    Posted January 23, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    My very favorite Simpson’s episode involves Homer attempting to win a hot pepper eating contest at the fair. He gets the idea to line the inside of his mouth with melted candle wax and then proceeds to eat a large quantity of hot peppers.
    The rest of the episode is him hallucinating wandering through the desert talking with a fox (which must have been a stand in for a coyote a la Carlos Castaneda).

    I think it is a bad sign that I often say “that is like the Simpson’s episode where…”.

  22. Bob Scott Placier
    Posted January 24, 2016 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    There are still wild peppers (Capsicum species) throughout the American tropics, and up into Florida. Commonly they are called “bird peppers”, and it is birds that disperse the seeds. The fruits are much smaller, of course, than the peppers we (some of us anyway) eat. The fruits are bright red when ripe. An advertisement for birds, with their color vision, which few mammals possess.

    So a reasonable hypothesis for the hot taste of wild peppers is that it evolved to deter mammals from eating the fruit, since they have teeth and would damage or destroy the seeds with their feeding. Birds, of course, have no teeth and wouldn’t encounter the heat when swallowing the fruits. Nor would they harm the seeds, which would pass on through and be dispersed with a bit of “fertilizer” perhaps.

    I’m a bird bander in southern Ohio, and I set my nets during fall migration near spicebush (Lindera benzoin) shrubs laden with their bright red fruit. It ripens just on time for the thrush migration. I suspect Florida banders may use the bird peppers the same way.


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