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Red Chili Pepper History Variety Heat

Red Chili pepper (Lal Mirch) arrived in India during 16th century replacing Pippali. Chili is hotter and easier to grow than Pippali

Peppers in India before Chili Pepper

In India, two types of pepper existed before the arrival of Chili pepper: Black Pepper, and Pippali. Black pepper was called round pepper, and Pippali was called the long pepper. The Pippali appears as small tiny little berries (about the size of poppy seeds) on a cob. The size of dried Pippali spike is similar to dried Cayenne pepper

During the sixteenth century, Chili and  Pippali were both used interchangeably. It was easier to grow Chili peppers, so the Pippali became less available. Nowadays, chili pepper has completely replaced the Pippali in normal cooking except for some specialty items such as pickles


Origin Of Chili Pepper

Chili pepper is native of tropical South America. In 1492, Columbus found chili peppers in West Indies. Columbus thought this was another variety of black pepper.  The original name used by Columbus for these peppers was 'Aji', a variation of 'Axi' (Aztek).  The name Chili originated from Nahuatil (Aztec) where Chile was referred to 'Red'.  This name has died out in United States (because of a 'State Of Texas' dish called Chili), but remains in use in UK, Australia and most of Asia. In India its name is literal derivative Lal (Red/Chile) Mirch (Pepper).

Portuguese traders introduced Chili pepper to India during 16th century. "Vindaloo" still remains one of the hottest dish prepared in Goa using chili pepper, an old Portuguese colony in India. India is the largest consumer, producer and exporter of Chili pepper.

At present, there are four types of Chili pepper used in India; namely, Lal Mirch, Hari Mirch (Fresh Lal Mirch), Degi Mirch (Paprika) and Simla Mirch( Sweet Bell Pepper).

The Chili plant belongs to genus Capsicum and reaches a height of about three feet, with white flowers, resulting in a fruit of varied color and pungency (heat).


The genus Capsicum consists of approximately 22 wild species and five domesticated species:
C. annuum Red Chili Pepper, Paprika
C. baccatum Oldest archeological evidence 4500 years ago in Europe
C. chinese The Habanera
C. frutescens The Tabasco
C. pubescens Rocto, Locoto


Heat and Color

The chemical composition of the Capsicum includes Capsaicinoids and Carotenoids. The  pungency is based on the concentration of Capsaicinoids, primarily of capsaicin. The capsaicin is concentrated in the placenta area (white pith where seeds are attached). 60% of capsaicin is in the white pith and 40% in the seeds. Flavor is located Carotenoids, the color of the skin. The stronger the color, the stronger the flavor. As the ground chili pepper ages, it lose the color and the flavor.

Human tongue can detect as low as one part per million concentration of capsaicin. Capsaicin may not be broken down during the digestion process and may result in feeling burning sensation several hours after eating chilies. Birds are attracted by the red color of the fruit. Birds are immune to burning sensation caused by capsaicin, the fruit is not digested and the seeds pass through the digestive tract dispersing near their habitat.


How is the Heat measured?

In 1912  W. L. Scoville, devised a method to determine the heat. The method involved determining the amount of sugar to neutralize the heat from the pepper. It was a subjective test. Now a days more complicated technical method (Liquid Chromatography) is for direct measurement of capsaicin.
Only Capsaicin is responsible for the heat; however, Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) is actually the sum of capsaicin and Capsaicinoids. 15 SHU equals 1 ppm capsaicin plus Capsaicinoids.
It should be noted that heat varies dramatically from harvest to harvest, even from plant to plant in the same harvest as well as from pepper to pepper on the plant.


Why people enjoy eating hot peppers?

There are pain receptors called "trigeminal cells" located throughout the mouth, the nose and the throat. Capsaicin irritates these cells sending pain signals to the brain. The brain responds by releasing endorphins giving a  feeling of euphoria. Body also responds with increase of heart rate, metabolism, mouth salivation, and sweating; nose starts to run. Basically, it results in a sensation of well being. 
In Europe, the Chili was introduced as an aphrodisiac for men during the 16th century. In mid-east, it still has the same reputation.


Peppers and SHU

The following table focuses on SHU for most of the Chili peppers used in India and United States. Extremely Hot Chili Peppers | Bhut Jolokia - Hottest Chili pepper


  Scoville Units (SHU) Country
Pure Capsaicin 16,000,000 Laboratory Product
Pepper Spray (Police grade) 5,300,000 Laboratory Product, USA
Pepper Spray (Commercial) 2,000,000 Laboratory Product, USA
Bhut Jolokia 1,000,000 Plus Assam, India
Dorset Naga 876,000 to 970,000 West Bexington, Dorset, England. Created by Michael and Joy Michaud using 'Naga Morich' from Bangladesh
Red Savina Habanera 350,000-577,000 Created by GNS Spices, California
Habanera 150,000-325,000 Latin and North America
Scotch Bonnet 150,000-325,000 Caribbean Islands
Carolina Cayenne 100,000-125,000 USA
Thai Dragon 50,000-100,000 Thailand
Piquin 40,000-58,000 Mexico
Tabasco 30,000-50,000 Mexico
Cayenne 30,000-50,000 USA
Red Crushed Pepper 30,000-50,000 India
Lal Mirch 30,000-50,000 India
Hari Mirch 15,000-30,000 India
Dundicut 30,000-50,000 Pakistan
Jalapenos 25,000 - 30,000 Mexico
Serrano 7,000-25,000 Mexico
Red Crushed Pepper 20,000 California
Mild Serrano 6,000-17,000 Texas
Mild Jalapenos 3,000-5,000 USA
Ancho 3,000 Mexico
Anaheim 500-1,500 American Red Pepper
New Mexico pepper 500-1,000 USA
Santa Fe Grande pepper 500 - 700 USA
Peperoncino 100-500 Italy


Kashmiri Mirch/Degi  1500-2000 India
Hungarian Paprika 100-500 Hungary
Spanish Paprika (Pimento) 100-500 Spain
Bell Pepper 0 United States
Simla Mirch 0 India
Note 1: In United States, chili is also a dish prepared dish. The Chili powder is referred to a blend of spices (Oregano, Chili peppers, Cumin, Garlic & Onion).
Note 2: In my opinion, Degi Mirch imparts better color (crimson red), and flavor than any other Paprika in the world.


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