Hot & Crazy
- Anubhuti Poudyal
I have never been a big fan of pain. I guess no one is. But, the popularity of chillies always made me think otherwise. Why on earth do people like the burning sensation that comes with the smallest spoonful of chilly-based food? Isn’t food supposed to give you happiness and pleasure? Why is chilly responsible for one of the most booming businesses of the world? And, more importantly, why do they make their way into the homes of almost each and every Nepali?
The things that comes to our minds when we think of chilly, are food that we strongly associate with it. While none of the awesome achars are possible without chillies, we have a constant habit of adding it to our dishes, on regular days and on special occasions. In any way possible, as a Nepali, it is almost impossible to avoid these hot creatures from our daily food, be it at home or outside. Chicken chilly, capsicum on top of pizza or mere chutney of momo all contain adequate amount of chillies and we never seem to complain. In fact, there aren’t many vegetables we appreciate as much as them.
So, how did these little beasts come into our lives? It is believed to be a part of human civilization since 7000 B.C. in Mexico. It is speculated to be formally cultivated there since 3500 B.C. The formal trade of these spices started much later though. It was way back in 15th century that the Portuguese started learning about chillies and exporting them to far-off lands, namely India. While many of us associate India most strongly with hot food and chillies, it is these Europeans who were then in hold of South America, that brought chillies into the lives of other people in the world. It quickly became a worldwide sensation (quickly being 200 years) and about 600 years later, there aren’t any people in the world who haven’t heard of chillies.
Now, we have varieties of chillies from around the world. We have tabasco sauce and jalapenos as much as our regular bhede khursani (bell peppers), jire khursani (Bird’s eye chilli or Bird pepper) and akbare khursani (cherry peppers).
How hot are you?
In case of a person, that question might not have a concrete answer. But thankfully, in case of chillies, we do. The Scoville scale can be used to see how hot the chillies are. Regular capsicum or bhede khursani as we call it, are an almost 0 in the Scoville scale which means they have no significant heat. As the heat increases, the Scoville scale increases and it goes on to more than a million among the world’s hottest chillies. Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, having a scale of 1,500,000-2,000,000, is one of the world’s hottest chillies.
• It was not until 1868 that Europeans learned that chillies were not originally from India.
• Chillies are used around the world to control pests as well. Dried chillies scare off even squirrels.
• Contrary to popular opinion, it is not the seeds that are the hottest part of a chilli, but the white pith that surrounds them and runs in thick veins through the pod.
• One teaspoon of red chilli powder meets the recommended daily allowance for Vitamin A. Vitamin A plays an important role in vision and bone growth.
• A green chilli pod has as much vitamin C as six oranges.
• Chilli peppers may help prevent the growth of certain cancers.
• Chilli peppers are good sources of iron, potassium and dietary fiber.
• Some cultures put chilli powder in their shoes to keep their feet warm.
Know your chillies
Bell peppers (bhede khursani) and plain Capsicum
Special features: These larger chillies do not show the characteristic heat of chillies at all. They are vegetable-like; giving off a mild smell of the lot they belong to. They can be found in yellow or red or even green color.
Scoville scale: No significant heat.
Preferred food: They can be a part of almost all dishes but are greatly preferred in salads where the crunchy taste of this chilli can be most enjoyed.
Nutrition: High source of vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids.
Chilli pepper or dhokre khursani
Special features: These are smaller in comparison to Capsicum and are hotter. It is an excellent way to spice up your curries, soups or sauces if you do not want extra heat but still love the tinge of it on your tongue. This category contains a wide range of chillies with different intensities of heat.
Scoville Scale: Can range from 1,500 to a million.
Preferred food: Curries, soups and sauces. Dried and used for pickles.
Nutrition: Very good source of vitamin B and C. They are considered a good source of iron, magnesium and potassium.
Bird’s eyes or jire khursani
Special features: These are smaller chillies that grow upright from the plant. They might be found in clusters. They are hotter form of chillies that are found in the market. These are easily domesticated.
Scoville Scale: 50,000 to 100,000
Preferred food: Highlight of pickles.
Nutrition: Vitamin A, B and C, magnesium, potassium and iron.
Cherry peppers or jyanmara khursani
Special features: Also known as pimento in some parts of the world, they are cherry shaped and are hotter in intensity easily camouflaged by their happy cherry shape with bright red colors in most cases. They are considered as one of the forms of chilli pepper but have made a niche for themselves for their uses in different dishes.
Scoville Scale: 100 to 900
Preferred food: Stuffed within olives in many parts of the world, in Nepal, it is used to make pickles especially where garlic and cherry peppers and mixed with oil and stored in a jar for them to ripen.
Nutrition: Vitamin A and C.