The main chemical compound that makes chili peppers hot to the taste is pure capsaicin. The glands of the pepper produce the chemical compound. Capsaicin is unequally spread along the inside of the pod however the highest concentration is found in the tissue of the central placenta. Pepper seeds are not a source of heat but in rare cases they absorb some of the capsaicin.
If capsaicin comes in contact with skin and eyes, it is very irritating. There will be a severe burning sensation when the skin comes in contact with the compound. It causes the tissues of the lungs to swell and will also irritate the mucous membranes of the mouth. Research has found that in mites and insects, capsaicin seems to damage cell membranes and interfere with their nervous system.
Capsaicin is widely used to flavor many spicy cuisines. There are many types of hot peppers that contain a high level of capsaicin. Many of the hot sauces available in the supermarkets and grocery stores have this chemical compound in them as well. The United States Environmental Protection Agency recognizes capsaicin as a natural biochemical pesticide. Many products containing the chemical compound are used in the world of agriculture and in many nurseries. Other capsaicin products are repellents for wildlife creatures such as bears and backyard pets such as dogs and cats. In recent years, capsaicin has found its way into many topical analgesics such as muscle rubs and sports creams. Some of the newest pain patches that are available over-the-counter are boasting capsaicin to relieve the pain.
Caution When Using
The effects of exposure to capsaicin can be painful and for some dangerous. When using products that contain the compound such as repellents, caution should be taken not to get it on the skin or to inhale it. Exposure can happen by eating or smoking with it on the hands before thoroughly washing or by touching plants that are freshly sprayed and have not yet dried.
Relieving the Burn
After ingesting food that has been spiced with a certain amount of capsaicin, most individuals seek some sort of liquid to suppress the heat. Water will not work as the compound is not water soluble but fat soluble. More effective are the liquids containing a high amount of sugar or fat. Foods such as ice cream and cheese work well as the capsaicin bonds to the fat thus relieving the discomfort.
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