Imagine your mouth burning like wildfire, your eyes squirting out uncontrollable tears, and your face red and sweating profusely. Are you sick? No, you just took a bite of a screaming hot chili pepper. Congratulations. You’re partaking in a worldwide tradition that has been spicing up lives and diets for thousands of years.
My own desire for spicy meals led me to investigate why I get red in the face and salivate over the mere thought of eating a spicy chili. In the process, I’ve discovered there’s a lot more to chili peppers than I’d ever imagined. Today I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about the history of chili peppers, why they can be so spicy, what to so if you eat a too-hot pepper, and some of the ways peppers are used other than in foods.
The chili pepper has a long and fascinating history. Its scientific name is Capsicum. This is different from the common black pepper you have on your dining room table, whose scientific name is Piper nigrum. Black pepper was first cultivated in Asia and was prized in the West as early as the Roman Empire. In contrast, the chili pepper originated more than 5,000 years ago in South America, near what is today Bolivia and Brazil. Over time, it spread to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
But it wasn’t until Columbus came in the 1490s that the chili pepper became known to the rest of the world. As stated in the Cambridge World History of food, within fifty years after Columbus returned to Spain with sample plants, chili peppers could be found growing in coastal areas from Africa to Asia. From there, they spread inland, until they took hold of the taste buds of people around the globe. Today they’re most widely used in Mexico, Central and South America, Africa, Asia, the Balkans, and the United States. Carolyn Dille and Susan Belsinger, authors of the Chili Pepper Book, estimate that 25 percent of the world’s adult population uses chili peppers as a part of their daily diet.
Now that we know a little bit about the history of chili peppers, let’s see why they can put such a fire in our belly. The pleasure and pain involved in eating chili peppers comes from a chemical called capsaicin. Capsaicin is concentrated in the pepper’s veins and seeds, pictured here. To enjoy the flavor of a chili pepper without burning your stomach or mouth, avoid the veins and seeds when cooking or eating them.
P.W. Bosland tells us in the book Spices, Herbs, and Edible Fungi that chili pepper intensity is measured in two days. The first was developed by Wilbur L. Scoville in 1912. This method uses trained testers to measure chili peppers in Scoville Heat Units. These range from zero to 300,000. According to Bosland, this test is subjective because it relies on the individual tester’s sensitivity to capsaicin.
The second, more widely used test is called the high Performance Liquid Chromatography test, more commonly known as HPLC. This is also measured in Scoville Heat Units, but it’s more objective. The chili pods are dried and ground, and then the chemicals responsible for the heat are analyzed and rated according to pungency.
The hottest pepper on record is the deceptively small and unimposing orange habanero pepper. It’s been rated as high as 300,000 Scoville Heat Units, and it’s so powerful that some people have an allergic reaction just by touching it, which is why
I’m holding it by the stem.
If you eat an orange habanero pepper, it’s important to know how to deal with the burning sensation. Whatever you do, do not rinse your mouth with water. Dave DeWitt, in The Chili Pepper Encyclopedia, tells us capsaicin is not soluble in water. And even you drink a gallon of ice water , it’s not going to help. According to the Chili Pepper institute at New Mexico State University, the best solution is to consume a dairy product such as milk or yogurt, which contains a substance that strips away capsaicin from the interior cells of your mouth. This is why some hot foods, like Indian foods, are served with yogurt sauce.
Although chili peppers are prized above all for the flavor they add to food, they have other benefits as well. Pepper sprays have become a standard weapon for the personal protection of individuals and law-enforcement agencies. The New York Times reports that sales of pepper sprays have risen steadily and show no sign of slowing.
Chili peppers are also valued for their medical properties. According to Jack Challem, author of The Nutrition Reporter, there have been more than 1300 medical studies on capsaicin, the active ingredient in peppers. Moderate doses have been proved to aid digestion, reduce hypertension, improve circulation, and help dissolve blood clots. Preliminary research by Professor Kenji Okajima at Japan’s Kumamato University School of Medicine suggests that a combination of chili peppers and soybeans can promote hair growth and might hold promise as a cure for baldness.
In closing, it’s difficult to imagine our lives without the spice added by chili peppers. From their origins in South America to their current popularity around the world, peppers have been used not only to flavor our food but also improve out health and personal safety. While it remains to be seen whether or not chili peppers can actually cure baldness, we can be sure this ancient plant will continue to find new uses in our modern age.
Specific Purpose: To inform the audience about the history of chili pepper, why they can be so spicy, strategies for dealing with a too-hot pepper, and some of the non-culinary uses of peppers.
Central Idea: There is much more to chili peppers than most people imagine.
Method of Organization: Topical
The first paragraph uses several methods to gain attention and interests. The vivid description of sentence 1 is followed by a question that arouses curiosity about the subject of the speech. The third sentence reveals that the speaker is discussing chili peppers, while the final sentence suggests that the topic is important. This paragraph also relates the topic directly to the audience by using the words ‘you’ or ‘your’ six times. The second paragraph establishes the speaker’s credibility and indicates that there is much more to the subject of chili pepper than most people might imagine. The paragraph ends with a succinct preview statement that provides a strong lead-in to the body of the speech.
Main Point One: This main point (paragraph3-4) explains the history of chili peppers. Noting the differences between black pepper, which originated in Asia, and chili peppers, which originated in South Africa, the speaker explains how chili peppers spread around the globe after Columbus came to the New world. Because the speaker is not an expert on chili peppers, he is careful to identify the sources of his information.
Main Point Two: A transition at the beginning of paragraph 5 alerts the audience that the speaker is moving into his second main point, in which he explains why chili peppers affect people as they do (paragraph 5-8). In paragraph 5, he points out that the pleasure and the pain involved in eating chili peppers comes from a chemical called capsaicin, which is concentrated in a pepper’s veins and seeds. Paragraph 6-7 look at the two major methods of measuring the intensity of a chili pepper. Although the information in paragraphs 5-7 is technical in nature, the speaker explains it clearly and with a minimum of technical language. As can be seen from the video of the speech, the speaker’s visual aids are well designed and are perfectly timed with the speaker’s words. This is also true of the visual aids in other parts of the speech. In paragraph 8 the speaker focuses primarily on the orange habanero, the hottest pepper on record. His use of a pepper as a visual aid makes his discussion more interesting than it would have been otherwise.
Main Point Three: This main point (paragraph 9-10) explains how to deal with the effects of eating or handling a too-hot pepper. The speaker relies on expert sources and covers his points clearly and concisely. Not only does he explain what to do in dealing with a hot pepper, but he also explains why rinsing one’s mouth with water is less effective than consuming a dairy product such as milk or yogurt. This kind of detail provides depth and texture that goes beyond the level of an ordinary informative speech, and it leaves the audience feeling that they have truly learned something new.
Main Point Four: This main point discusses the nonculinary uses of chili peppers. Paragraph 11 deals with the use of pepper sprays for self-defense by individuals and law-enforcement agencies. Paragraph 12 focuses on the medicinal properties of chili peppers. By citing Jack Challem, author of The Nutrition Reporter, on the number of medical studies conducted on capsaicin, the speaker establishes the credibility of his nformation. He also mentions the intriguing possibility that a combination of chili peppers and soybeans might hold promise as a cure for baldness.
After summarizing his main points, the speaker ends by stating that whether or not chili peppers actually prove to be a cure for baldness, they will doubtless continue to be used in new ways as time goes by. The tone of the final sentence is just right for a speech on this subject and brings it to a harmonious end.