Let’s begin by taking note of the spelling. I was unaware that chili spelt with one ‘l’ is for American English while chilli spelt with two ‘l’s is correct for the rest of the English-speaking world. As I am British, I will use chilli for the rest of this article. If like me, you didn’t know this before today, I take only the tiniest piece of pleasure for bringing this to attention.
Today I found the answer to the question that I have been contemplating the past week or so: Are chillies addictive? The simple answer is yes. Chillies (unsurprisingly given my never ending yearning) are mildly addictive. The reason lies with a chemical called capsaicin. Capsaicin is the culprit of the beloved burning sensation experienced when eating chillies. Interestingly, the body defends itself from the pain sensation by producing more endorphins (also produced by eating chocolate, having sex etc.). These endorphins cause a (natural) high, keeping us coming back for more.
Chillies, like dark chocolate and sex, cause endorphins (happy chemicals) to be released in the brain making the gloss-red jewels mildly addictive.
And keep coming back for more I do. The past week I have relished in a wonderfully spicy addition to my work dinners, a condiment of sorts, prepared by my colleague’s mother. The heat is inexplicable, driving many to tears on the first try but the resulting feeling is so satisfying. I shan’t bore you with too many details but in short this sauce (although not really a sauce because it's dry) provides a fitting supplement to any dish, meat or vegetables. The Chinese name skips my mind but it is made from millet, fermented beans, salt and, of course, chilli. One must leave the mixture in a cool, dark place for about a month before its ready to eat. As time passes, the assortment becomes increasingly fiery until its ready to be fried with accompanying ingredients, spooned atop rice or even (if you dare) spooned between slices of bread (wow).
Leaving the scorching millet concoction aside leads to the main cause for writing today. The six key benefits of eating chillies. Chillies are a superb source of vitamin A, B, C and E alongside being a warehouse of minerals like manganese, folate, potassium and copper. What’s incredible (at least to me) is that chillies contain some seven times more vitamin C than oranges.
6 Benefits of Eating Chillies
1. Antioxidant content. Vitamin A and C are powerful antioxidants known for seeking out and destroying free radicals. If left unattended, these free radicals could cause irreparable damage to cells in the body. Furthermore, the high vitamin content can help to boost the bodies immunity. Vitamin A, for example, is vital for healthy mucous membranes in the nose and lungs, areas of the body that provide our first defence against infecting pathogens.
2. Natural pain relief. The aforementioned capsaicin is a natural means for relieving pain thanks to the endorphins created in the brain from consumption. In order to get the highest amount of endorphins as possible, however, you must eat the hottest chilli you can manage. Indeed, the hotter the chillies the higher the capsaicin, the higher the capsaicin the more endorphins emitted from the brain.
3. Cardiovascular benefits. You’re probably unsurprised that a higher consumption of chillies is associated with a lower rate of heart attack and stroke. The reason lies with the role chilli peppers can have in the preventing of cholesterol formation. Simply adding a few chillies to each meal could help ensure a healthy heart.
4. Prevent prostate cancer. For men out there, this has to be the number one reason for consuming as many chillies as you can bare. According to the science, the aforementioned capsaicin clings to cancer cell membranes, effectively pulling the cell apart thus making it redundant. As I consume chilli, I like to imagine the evil cancer cell being chased, and eventually caught and destroyed, by the capsaicin hero. Childlike, I know, but entertaining.
5. Detoxification and congestion. When we eat chilli our bodies sweat, this not only helps us to feel cooler in hotter climates (and warmer in cooler climates) but also to remove toxins. In addition, the tantalising heat favours the bodies natural decongestants, helping you to be free from a stuffed nose or clogged lungs.
6. Lose weight. This point is somewhat frivolous. We all know (even if we don’t admit it to ourselves) there is only one effective way for losing weight. That said, it goes almost without saying that the intense sweat we have after eating chillies requires energy, the energy comes from calories. Chillies are a sure method for growing one’s calorie burn but not a technique for losing weight alone.
I’m grateful to those intrepid explorers who found chillies in Central and South America some hundreds of years ago. When considering individuals before us, I often wonder what their first experience of these new foods must have been like. I remember when I was younger it was playful to dare friends to eat an irregular foodstuff. Did the people of the past do this too when they first encountered chillies? Perhaps this kind of personal history we’ll never know but I take joy in imagining such playful behaviour, however ridiculous.
With all this splendid information in mind, then, I’m off to prepare dinner. I will be sure to include as many chillies as I can stomach. I hope after considering this article, you’ll do the same. What could be the harm? Be brave!