02 February 2008

The World's Hottest Chili Pepper

The bhut jolokia pepper was declared the world's hottest pepper by the Guinness Book of World Records:

A panel of tasters used to rank chilies. Now a process called high performance liquid chromatography does all the work, with results given in Scoville Heat Units. The peppers yielded a reading of 1,041,427 SHUs, twice that of the California red savina pepper, the previous record-holder. An SHU is the amount of dilution needed before the chili is undetectable.

(Wall Street Journal, "The World's Hottest Chili")

The peppers are native to India but are now shipped around the world.

Scientists have a theory for why spicy foods are so satisfying:

A publication of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in New York described it this way: "When capsaicin comes into contact with the nerve endings in the tongue and mouth, pain messengers, called neurotransmitters, are sent to the brain in a panic. The brain, mistakenly perceiving that the body is in big trouble, responds by turning on the waterworks to douse the flames. The mouth salivates, the nose runs and the upper body breaks into a sweat. The heart beats faster and the natural painkiller endorphin is secreted. In other words, you get a buzz."

It's similar to a runner's high, says Bruce Bryant, a researcher for the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, which specializes in analyzing taste.

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