Red hot chilli peppers

Suddenly, it seems, we are a nation obsessed by chillies. We pepper our food, our beer, and sometimes even our vodka with these bright fiery pods and Mexican restaurants are now found all over Scotland. Hannah Robinson asks, what has

caused this mounting addiction?

Chillies are said to be physically addictive. Much the same as chocolate. they supposedly stimulate the production of the same endorphins which we produce during orgasm. Professor Duggan of Edinburgh University was fairly unconvinced by this theory. but confirmed an even more bizarre fact. The chemical that makes chillies hot. ('apsair'm. works by l stimulating the same nerve fibres which i we use to sense pain. An overload of T capsaicin. particularly when given at an early age. can actually destroy those fibres. leaving the body unable to sense pain. Presumably this accounts for people building up an immunity to hot food if you can cope with the hottest curry on the menu. then start worrying. You were probably fed vindaloo as a baby.

and understanding of pain. but also because they contain a high concentration of vitamin C (Nobel prize winner. .Albert Szent-Gyorgyi. used the pepper family to isolate

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vitamin C). In fact. the name we give to this small. hot vegetable is down to one of Christopher Columbus‘s famous

blunders. Alongside calling everyone

he met ‘lndians‘. he also kept calling most ofthe spices he found ‘pepper' due to his promise to Queen Isabella that he would return to Spain with a

' ship full of peppercorns. Chillies are in

fact from the potato family. not pepper. Centuries of confusion ensued. However. to give Chris his dues. he did begin the spread of chillies to all corners of the earth.

Strangely enough. Asian cooking knew nothing of chillies until 400 years ago. Vindaloo is a culinary product of Portugal‘s occupation of Goa. lndia seems to make more use of fresh green chillies in their cooking. In Thailand

they love their sauces hot and red and Chillies are of great interest to science and medicine. not only in the treatment

One of the hottest is a type of Caribbean chilli called the Scotch Bonnet, small,

crumpled and brightly

; coloured, so hot that the juice

can blister your fingertips

syrupy sweet. in Sn’ Lanka they pound red chillies with Maldive fish to make the exquisite karra samba]. ln Szechuan, unlike the rest of China. they like their flavours robust. earthy and fiery. with chillies and Szechuan peppercorns at the heart ofevery dish. In Japan they grate fresh red chilli with (lat/con. Japanese white radish. as a hot crunchy salad. in Jamaica. they use powdered Scotch Bonnet chilli in their famousjerk chicken seasoning.

But it is in Mexican cooking that chillies are most renowned. There is a Mexican song which goes. ‘l'm like a green chilli. hot but delicious‘. They also say ‘hot plus hot equals cold'. In a hot climate. capsaicin triggers the body’s merino—regulatory system. causes perspiration starting in the face and cools the skin. Ronnie Somerville of Glasgow's Cami/1a del Rey is a definite chilli-junkie. Having spent years supplying ingredients to most of Scotland‘s Mexican restaurants. he opened one up himself which is now reckoned to be Glasgow‘s best. When I went to talk to him about chillies. he had a table cluttered with little pots ready for me to taste. There are said to be over a hundred different varieties of chilli and one of the hottest is the Caribbean Search Banner. small. crumpled and brightly coloured. and so hot that the juice can blister your fingertips. We didn’t attempt that one. Other wonderful names include the Banana War Pepper. Serrano Chi/[1' and the Peter Pepper, as in the pick a pock of pickled. Some of the chillies we tasted were fresh. some dried and

4. .’


The red Poblano chilli and the elongated chocolate-coloured Chilaca chilli both from Mexico

reconstituted in water. some pickled. Ronnie had charred some with a blow torch (his ‘best‘ kitchen tool) which caramelises the sugar in the chillies making them deliciously sweet and smoky. He also reckons that complex specifications for chillies in Mexican salsa are unnecessary. as you can't really taste the difference between them when they‘re mixed up. ‘Much like malt whiskies.’ he added controversially. Obviously a Mescal man. he brought out a bottle of Telzuana. Mescal with a huge dried

Arte/m chilli steeping inside. which had more than a kick to it as well as a wild smoky after taste.

Douglas Bell of Edinburgh’s impressive Mexican delicatessen. Lupe Pin/n '3'. seems to know everything there is to know about Mexican cooking. This isn't surprising since he lived in Southern Mexico for two years before opening the original Panchuko Cantinas over here. He is keen to share his knowledge. with cookery books for you to consult or buy. and readily given advice on the ingredients. He disagrees

90 The List 24 Feb-9 Mar 1995