Chillies. The Pros and Cons.

Chilli originated in the Americas, and has been part of the human diet since at least 7500 BC. Explorer Christopher Columbus brought it back to Spain in the 15th century and its cultivation spread rapidly through Europe, Asia, India and Africa.

There are more than 200 varieties, coloured anything from yellow to green to red to black, and varying in heat from mildly warm to mouth-blisteringly hot.

The hottest are usually the smallest: habanero orange, African bird’s eye and Scotch bonnet. Green chillies are unripe, so usually aren’t as hot as red ones. The active ingredient is capsaicin, most of which comes from the seeds and the veins. So if you prefer your chilli milder, try a green one and remove the seeds before chopping. Wash your hands well afterwards as the burn can linger.

The pros

Chilli contains up to seven times the vitamin C level of an orange and has a range of health benefits, including fighting sinus congestion, aiding digestion and helping to relieve migraines and muscle, joint and nerve pain. It’s also a good source of vitamins A and E, beta-carotene, folic acid and potassium. Chilli has long been used to reduce food micro-contamination and is also considered a potential metabolism booster for weight loss. Several studies have found it may also play a role in treating lung and prostate cancer and leukaemia.

The cons

Chilli can be irritating if taken in excess. Extremely hot ones can burn the inside of the mouth and can also be irritating when excreted. A glass of milk or yoghurt side dish such as cucumber raita can help soothe the bite. The casein in milk pulls the capsaicin away from nerve-receptor sites to ease the burning sensation. If you have any pre-existing medical condition, ask your doctor if it’s okay to eat hot chilli. Or if you can’t stomach the heat, ask them about capsaicin supplements.