Plants in Natin spicy garden Chili and Cayenne pepper.


The chili peppers were introduced to Asia in the 16th century by Spanish and Portuguese trade routes from South America. S.E Asian cooking without these hot fruits is nearly impossible.

A little bit botany

The paprika, chili pepper, cayenne or hot pepper and habanero are fruits from plants in the genus Capsicum with 16-25 species. All species are from tropical America. This genus belongs to the Solanaceae family.

To this family belongs also potato (Solanum tuberosum), eggplant (S. melalonga) and tomato (S. lycopersicum and a lot of medicinal/toxic plants like tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) and the deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), this was a very important medicinal plant.

Black pepper is the fruit from Piper nigrum in the Piperaceae family, originally found in India.
See:Pepper.html: black

The two most important species in the genus Capsicum are:

The boundaries between these two species are not very clear, intermediate species exist. There are many cultivars with different shapes, colors, smell and grades of hot taste.

Fruits from C. annuum

like bananas
Klonghaeng market
chilli pepper
here the hot stuff is produced
yello like bananas paprikas in the market several cultivars the placental ridge with seeds

The hot stuff.

The hot burning taste is a property of the "alkaloid" capsaicinoids, a mixture of related nitrogen containing compounds like capsaicin. Below this mixture is referred as capsaicin.
It is produced in placental ridges in the fruit by special glands as small oil drops, together with volatile oil.
Capsaicin is soluble in alcohol and fats. In case of painful heat from chili's you can remove the capsaicin easily with any cooking oil, butter or even milk.
In cooking and baking part of the capsaicin can evaporate and can produce choking steam.

To quantify the hot taste a tasting scale was developed by Scoville and expressed as Scoville units. The hotness for the pure compounds varies in the range (0)-9-16 million units. In sweet paprika this value is close to zero and in the Cayenne pepper mostly from 20.000 - 30.000 Scoville units, but extremely hot cultivars exist (more than 100,000 Scoville units).
If the concentration of the different capsaicin like compounds is known, the Scoville value can be calculated.

One of the hottest peppers is in the group cultivars of C. chinesis Thai name พริกน้อย (phrik noi) like Habenero or the Bhut Jolokia Pepper. The Scoville values have a range from 100,000 units up. Every year there ther seem to be hotter one. The record(2013) is more 2 MSU (Mega Scovile units),You should look up for current hottest on wikipedia.
The hotness of pepper spray is in the range 2,000,000 (Europe) to 4,000,000 Scoville units (U.S.).

pictures of C. frutescens and C. chinensis

small fruits
a shrub
painfull pungent species
dried and fresh fruits
cayenne pepper cayenne pepper red-orange habaneros a mix of hot peppers

How capsaicin works

Nerves transmit signals to other cells by releasing a chemical substance to regulate the other cell. After tissue damage many types of "pain nerves" send a pain message to nerves in the spinal cord using Substance P for short SP (SP is a deca neuropeptide ).

On application of capsaicin on the body it activates these cells releasing SP, and the hot/pain sensation starts. At some moment the SP storage from the cell is empty. But as long as there is sufficient capsaicin no new SP can be formed. The nerve has to stop sending messages.
When the amount of capsaicin is low enough, the cell restores its SP buffers and then can be reactivated.
When pain is severe an other group neuro peptide starts killing the pain: our body own opium-like neurotransmitters: the endo(mo)rphines. (Yes, you can get addict to these endorphins.)
SP can also cause diarrhea and many other problems.

Capsaicin or extracts of capsicum fruits are used in ointment, creams etc. to help release many different sources of pain.

There is speculation if the lower incidence of intestine cancer in Thailand and Mexico is due to the hot(chili) food.

Other Solanaceae in the garden

In the garden you can see about 15 species of the Solanaceae family. For example the next four species of the genus Solanum:

unripe fruit in curry dishes
unripe fruit in curry dishes
img/plants/solanaceae/solanum_santiwongsei.jpg img/plants/solanaceae/solanum_mammosum_1.jpg
flower with fly
too toxic to eat
insect- and homicidal
Solanum aculeatissimum S. torvum S. sanitwongsei S. mammosum S. mammosum Nicotiana tabacum

More information on internet

Information on PROSEA

An important source of information is PROSEA, a collection of 24 books in 19 volumes with information on South East Asian plants. See PROSEA.

Capsicum in PROSEA vol 8 p 136-140 by J.M. Poullos

web site for spices

The best site for spices is certainly the web site by Gernot Katzer in Austria. Here you can find the names of spices in many languages, and information on the use of spices and even recipes for cooking.
This is the link to his English index of spice names.
The next two links are to his website: C. frutescens and C. chinensis and C. annuum

More information in Wikipedia Capsicum Capsicum, Scoville scale and capsaicin
Even on YouTube you can find even Capsicum shows. Try this one for example: Scoville units and Capsicum fruits.
on wikipedia S. mammosum and wikipedia Solanine