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Back to the red hot chilli peppers

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I recently wrote about the piquancy of chilli peppers (PJ, 2 August 2008, p144) and here I am back on the same topic. Sorry to be so boring.

Apparently the peppers produce their pungent capsaicinoids as a defence mechanism against microbial fungi of the Fusarium genus. The fungus infects the fruit through skin punctures made by insects and them destroys the seeds before birds can eat them and distribute them in their droppings.

Although the fungus is sensitive to the capsaicinoids, the seed-loving birds cannot taste them.

Researchers from the University of Washington have now found that not all chillis of the same species produce capsaicinoids to the same level. One plant’s fruit can be hotter than a jalapeño while another’s are as mild as a bell pepper. The hottest peppers come from plants that are exposed to greater bug attack and are therefore more vulnerable to fungus.

The researchers say that the finding could lead to new ways to control the heat of chillis and perhaps grow them even hotter — though why anyone would want to do that is beyond me.

But I do feel sorry for those birds, which are clearly unable to appreciate the difference between a jalfresi and a vindaloo, poor things.

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