If you’ve ever wondered what exactly it is that makes chili peppers so hot, it’s time to take a closer look at a little something called capsaicin. In more simple terms, capsaicin is the active ingredient naturally found in chili peppers, and packaged up into some of your favorite hot sauce. This fiery chemical compound is highly concentrated in a chili pepper’s inner white pith, but it certainly packs quite a punch. It’s really the capsaicin that makes for the “heat” you feel when you eat hot peppers, and the more capsaicin that’s in a particular pepper, the hotter the pepper. A pepper’s seeds aren’t the hot part, but sometimes capsaicin ends up coating the pepper seeds too, causing them to taste so “hot’.
So, why do peppers contain capsaicin in the first place? Some think it has to do with ensuring a pepper’s own survival. The spicy hot capsaicin helps to keep fungi and many mammals away. That’s why it’s used in some garden insect repellents and even in pepper spray. While capsaicin irritates many mammals, birds aren’t affected at all. Of course, they help spread pepper seeds, again ensuring a pepper’s natural survival out in the wild.
While some people crave the heat of hot peppers and hot pepper products, it’s not just the spicy flavor that everyone’s seeking out. The “burn” you feel from capsaicin is now being packaged up into ointments and into patch form to help relieve pain from things like arthritis and sprains. It’s also said to help with shingles, and in a cream form to help treat psoriasis. When it comes to diet control, some suspect that capsaicin may help suppress your appetite, too. So the next time you feel the urge to spice up your food, keep in mind you’re not necessarily craving peppers, but rather the spicy hot capsaicin packed inside.