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Kashmiri Chilli, Whole

English Name:                                        Kashmiri Chilli/chile/chili

Hindi Name:                                        Mirch

Sanskrit Name:                                        Chillies have not been in India long enough to have a true Sanskrit name

Latin Name:                                        Capsicum

Plant Family:                                        Solanaceae, nightshade family

Region Grown:                                        Not all Kashmiri chillies are grown in Kashmir, some are also grown  in Hamachal Pradesh, or in the southern state of Telangana.

Part of Plant Used:                                        Fruit/pod.Chillies can be picked when fully ripe or early. Ripe chillies can be a variety of colours – red, orange, yellow, green. Red varieties are usually green before they ripen; as they redden they tend to get hotter and sweeter.Chillies are often bought dried. There are a variety of ways to dry chillies depending on the variety. If the walls of the chilli are not too thick, the best way is to sun dry them.Ground chilli powder is widely available, although you should check the ingredients before you buy it – what is often sold as chilli powder is a mix of chilli and other spices such as cumin, coriander, black pepper, salt etc

Plant Description:                                        Annual shrub, usually around 1-3 feet high.

Characteristics:                                        Chillies are best known for the heat they add to food, generated by the active component, Capsaicin.If mild, it can gently warm the mouth and throat for a while after eating, if strong, it can literally feel like your mouth and throat are burning unbearably.Everyone has their stories and memories of eating too much chilli; a friend of ours took this to the extreme. He toasted some dried red birds eye chillies (the small, thin and very hot ones), and ground them into a fine powder. He then, inexplicably, decided that it would be a good idea to snort this powder. Words can’t adequately describe the pain he felt, but the fact it took fully 3½ hours before he regained the will to live should give you some idea! Life has a way of balancing things out, and our collective laughter balancing his pain was no doubt a great comfort to him.Scoville ScaleThe heat of chillies is most widely measured using the Scoville Scale. The original Scoville test involved a panel of tasters consuming increasingly dilute concentrations of various chillies until they ceased to taste hot. A numerical scale was worked out from this, with higher numbers indicating hotter chillies.Birds Eye chillies typically rate 100,000 – 225,000 Scoville Heat Units, whilst a Scotch Bonnet can range from 100,000 to 325,000 Units.Pepper spray ranges from 2 million units up to 5 million for police grade spray. Pure capsaicin powder measures 16 million units. Anyone working with this has to wear a protective body suit in a filtered tox-room.The world’s hottest chilli was thought to be the Naga Jalokia which is grown in the hilly regions of Assam in India. (Naga means ‘snake’ in Sanskrit.)However, Joy and Michael Michaud have produced what they call the Dorset Naga from their market garden in Dorset. It is a relative of the Scotch Bonnet which was originally selected from Naga Morich, a chilli prized by the Bangladeshi community in Britain. Their original propagating material was from a shop in the exotic town of Bournemouth, England! So, how hot is it? They explain: “In the summer of 2005, a sample of Dorset Naga was collected and subsequently tested for heat by two laboratories in the USA. The average of the two results, measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), was an astounding 923,000 SHU. Confirming the 2005 results, our 2006 crop of Dorset Naga was measured this autumn and came out to be 960,000 SHU. A second test in a different laboratory is still pending. High as our results were, BBC “Gardeners’ World” has recorded an even higher level. As part of its 2006 programming, the BBC gardening team ran a chilli trial looking at several varieties, including Dorset Naga. Heat levels were tested in a British laboratory and the Dorset Naga came in at almost 1.6 million SHU. However, few details about the sampling and testing techniques are available, and we are not fully confident of the extreme figure of 1.6 million – although the true level is still likely to be considerably higher than a million.To put these figures in context, up until last year the Guinness world record for the hottest chilli was held by the Red Savina chilli, with a one-time measurement of 577,000 SHU.” (No-not if the information is in the public domain).Whilst it’s obvious that not all chillies are created equal, even the heat of two chillies from the same plant picked at the same point of ripeness can vary wildly.

Aroma:                                        Hot and slightly sharp, not very pungent. Can be sweet, depending upon the type of chilli. The Kashmiri chilli is quite fruity.

History:                                        The history of chilli starts 7500 years ago in Mexico according to Richard MacNeish, the renowned American archeologist. From as early as 5400BC Native Indians were cultivating chillies. In ‘The History of Food’ Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat writes: “Chillies and sweet peppers contain a great deal of Vitamins C and A. The chilli still helps the American Indian compensate for the poor vitamin content of their diet. Because of the ferocity of the chillies the Mayas, Aztecs, and Incas used them in their techniques of torture. They also provided a poison in which arrows were dipped, and the same substance was used to poison reservoirs of water for fishing; fish which died of it were well spiced before they were even cooked. The chilli also has antiseptic powers, and its powder must be dusted over suspect food, or even used to fumigate a room.”Columbus is credited with introducing chillies to Europe (see the next point also) and, from there, India, China and beyond. It is bizarre to think that a spice whose associations are so closely tied with Indian food actually arrived there via Europe! There are two possible reasons for the plant being known as a chilli pepper - Columbus actually thought he had a red variant of the black pepper plant, hence the word ‘pepper’ in there title. The other is that he may have known that they weren’t black pepper, but tried to pass them off as pepper in order to ‘prove’ that he really had found a new fast route to Asia, and not mistakenly ended up in America!As you can see from the two theories surrounding the name ‘chilli pepper’, history is full of disagreements, many of them around spices. It is also thought possible, by some historians, that it was actually the Portuguese who, through Vasco de Gama, introduced the chilli to India after acquiring it in Spain.Chilli is now present in almost all cuisines of the world and there are over three thousand varieties.

Points of Interest:                                        The big chilli myth: contrary to popular belief, the hottest part of the chilli is not the seeds, but the membrane to which the seeds are attached. The seeds themselves do not produce any capsaicin but can absorb it from the flesh around it.Pain Relief:Capsaicin causes cell membranes to allow calcium ions to overwhelm a cell, triggering a pain signal. It is a similar reaction to exposure to too much heat. Slight varieties of capsaicin compounds within chillies will affect how it binds to receptors in your tongue and throat, and how far they penetrate the receptors. This is why different chillies affect different parts of your mouth or throat.If you eat too much chilli, and we all do at some point, the most tempting way to cool your mouth down is with water. This is not a great idea as, whilst it will offer some brief respite, it will not actually neutralize the hotness: capsaicin is not soluble and will just get washed down to your stomach with sometimes predictable consequences. Much better is to drink milk or eat yoghurt as the casein protein that they contain will wash the capsaicin from its receptor binding site as a detergent might wash away grease.Capsaicin is also soluble in alcohol and fats. This is why our father would recommend rubbing butter or ghee in our eyes should we make that classic mistake of rubbing our eyes after chopping chillies. I’m not sure why he didn’t recommend gargling with shots of Tequila if we ate too much chilli, though! A cousin of mine will sometimes squeeze a lemon over his food if it is too hot, and this appears to help when I’ve tried it. Before the Indians had chillies, they used black pepper to provide the heat in their food. As soon as chillies were introduced they proved very popular as they were a much more immediate way to get heat into food.It may strike some as slightly perverse that the hotter the part of India, the hotter their local cuisine tends to be. There is a good reason for this: try eating a fiery dish on a hot day and you’ll notice it has an overall cooling effect on the body. The sweating caused by chilli naturally cools you whilst, at the same time, helping to prevent the risk of sunstroke.Another reason chillies became so popular in India is that they are thought to prevent water borne illness if planted around water supplies.There’s a possible biological reason why some people get ‘addicted’ to curries: a small amount of chilli causes the body to release endorphins which make you feel good! For those of you worrying about possible masochistic tendencies leading you to eat more and more chilli, this may be of some comfort!Birds are not affected by chilli. It is thought that chilli plants evolved with increasing amounts of capsaicin to stop mammals eating them and destroying the seeds. Birds’ pain receptors are not sensitive to chilli, so they can eat away at them, helping disperse the seeds across a wide area. Fish are the same, and some fish food contains chilli as it keeps their scales bright.

Ayurvedic Properties:                                         Cools vata and kapha, warms pitta. Has stimulant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, analgesic, antibacterial, carminative, diaphoretic, digestive, decongestant, and rubifacient actions. Stimulates digestion and so eases indigestion, stimulates endorphin production, helps with parasites, blood clots lungs – asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, tracheal and bronchial cell swelling, purifies blood and stimulates circulation.Research is ongoing into its beneficial effects upon prostate cancer and leukaemia. Energetics: pungent-hot-pungent

Precautions:                                                            Care when handling chillies is fairly obvious. Men in particular should exercise care when going to the loo after chopping chillies. Chilli stays on your fingers a long time!

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