Why chop the peppers? Capsaicin, the chemical element responsible

By Alfonso Gonzalez, Country Manager of CAS Spanish america

Mexico is the country that presents the greatest diversity of chili peppers, and those are one of the great prides of the nation. The list of the different types of chiles is long: the poblano, the width, the jalapeño, the chipotle, the serrano, the tree, the piquín, habanero… they are more of 64 genetic variations presented by this species in different states of the Republic and constitute a collection of shapes, colors, sizes and textures is very varied. But, why chop the peppers?

However, above all these features, the most important for the classification of peppers is, of course, their degree of hotness. While most picoso, the more respected is the bell pepper, and more courageous, the one who swallowed. What few know is that the active component to which chile owes its venerable effect spicy is called capsaicin (CAS Registry Number 404-86-4).

Capsaicin is a small molecule that stimulates our pain receptors, and burning, so, the more capsaicin it contains a food, the more irritating it will seem to the person that eat it. Interestingly, this effect of burning that occurs in the mouth, and is called pungency, is implemented only in mammals; other animals do not perceive that irritation.

There is a scale that measures the level of itching that is picked up by the epidermis when in contact with substances own peppers: the Scale Scoville. The number of Scoville units (SHU, Scoville Heat Unitsindicates the amount of capsaicin present in a food. In its beginnings, towards the second decade of the TWENTIETH century, this scale was estimated by diluting a sample of the juice of the pepper on water: the amount of water needed to extinguish completely the itching sensation, indicating the degree of the same in this scale. For example, if a chile habanero gets 300,000 points on the Scoville Scale, means that are necessary 300,000 servings of water per one of your essence to remove its spicy taste.

The human body fails to absorb efficiently the capsaicin, so that the molecule is expelled from your metabolism in almost its entirety. Their effects will only be felt on our skin and last for a maximum of 6 to 8 hours. Now, as it is a molecule hydrophobic, can not be dissolved in water but only in fat. So if you were to irritarnos too, it is recommended to drink whole milk cold… the water will not make any effect.

To try to mitigate that feeling of itching, our body generates endorphins. This explains why many people enjoy eating foods with a high content of capsaicin. You can also go back our skin almost numb to the pain if it is applied directly on it, so that it is used by some as a pain reliever.

A search with SciFinder, a platform for the exploration of CAS, database, chemicals, world’s largest, logged 570 references made in the past 16 years about the therapeutic use of capsaicinoids (the family which includes the capsaicin, dihidrocapsaicina, nordihidrocapsaicina and homodihidrocapsaicina). Of these, more than 10% are patents on the synthesis and the use of capsaicin at the clinical level. In fact, several investigations have shown that these substances have analgesic effects, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-obesity. In case outside little, it provides benefits to our cardiovascular system and gastrointestinal.

So please keep these data in mind the next time you taste a spicy sauce, and feel proud of all the benefits that brings that dish that you are tasting… that in addition to being delicious to the palate, it is helpful for your whole health!