We can all agree that Mexican food just isn’t quite the same without chili. In fact, your mouth is watering just from the thought of chili right now, isn’t it? Now you want a burrito for lunch, don’t you? That’s the power of the humble chili and its flavour sensations.
But did you know that this iconic heated flavour hit was one of the most interesting plants of all? Let’s see how many of the fun facts about chilis you know below… and keep these in mind for trivia night! You never know when your knowledge of the jalapeño will make you the hero of your table.
1) Birds are immune to the heat of chili
It’s true! Birds will never enjoy the rich spice of a Mexican dish, because capsicum – the thing that makes chilis hot – only affects mammals. Birds, slugs, and other animals are completely immune. From a survival perspective this makes sense – birds are what spread the seeds that allow chili plants to grow, so it’s pretty important that birds want to eat the fruit and a burning sensation would be a deterrent – but if you ask, not being able to enjoy the full depth of flavour in a burrito is brutal. We would hate to be a bird!
2) Peppers are actually one of the first domesticated plants
People were farming chili peppers over 6,000 years ago in Peru and Mexico. This is one ancient cuisine staple we are talking about here.
3) The hotness scale is no joke
Everyone who knows anything about chili knows the Scoville scale. Many people would probably know that at 2,200,000 SHU, the Carolina Reaper pepper is the champion of that particular scale. For comparison, the jalapeño – which is more than spicy enough for most people – clocks in at 10,000 SHU at most, and the habanero, which hits the tolerance limits of most people, is “only” 350,000. The Carolina Reaper is no joke.
Neither is the Scoville scale itself. Invented by a pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville, it’s actually a highly precise and accurate way of measuring heat levels, and so you can actually tell if a pepper that you’ve never eaten before is going to be too hot for you based on your comfort with the peppers that you already know.
4) There’s a Russian roulette pepper
It’s not used in Mexican cuisine, but this is a fun fact we couldn’t help throwing in there. The Japanese shishito is a fascinating pepper where, for the most part, there is no spice in them. They’re effectively as hot as a bell pepper (that is to say, a Scoville score of 0). But then one in ten of them is not. One on ten of them will hit you like a spicy jalapeño, and this always makes for a fun party game.
5) Chipotle and jalapeño are the same thing
If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between these two iconic Mexican ingredients, the answer is this: nothing. Well, they do taste different, because chipotle is manufactured by humans, but the underlying ingredient – the pepper itself – is actually the same. A chipotle is just a smoke-dried jalapeño.
6) Chili peppers are better for you than oranges
Everyone goes on about how oranges are a big boost in vitamin C and a great way to get over a cold… but perhaps we should all be throwing jalapeños into our juices instead. Chili peppers actually have almost double the amount of vitamin C in them compared to oranges – it’s around 107mg vs 69mg.
7) There’s one chili that’s also a good first aid trick
Keep some powdered cayenne pepper in the kitchen. Not only because it’s a great chili flavour in its own right, but it’s also a remarkably effective first aid tool. Without getting too technical here, the powder acts to equalise blood pressure, meaning that it slows the rate the blood is pumped out of a wound and will help it coagulate more quickly. In other words, it’s more effective at sealing a wound than a bandage.
And if the idea of rubbing pepper on to an open wound doesn’t sound like a good time to you, it’s also worth noting that the pepper actually acts to alleviate pain.
The more you dive into the world of chili the more you realise that not only does it power the best Mexican cuisine going around, but it’s a truly versatile miracle fruit (that’s right, one last fact – chili is a fruit, not a vegetable), and it’s no wonder it has been such a critical part of Mexican culture for so many thousands of years.
So, the next time you drop into a Mad Mex be sure to load up on those chili spices! It’s not just that they’ll satisfy your craving for rich, authentic flavours with impact, but you’ll be looking after your body and fuelling it with the very best stuff, too.
Here’s Mad Mex head honcho, Clovis, taking the challenge of eating a Carolina Reaper!