Eating spicy food like chili peppers or hot sauce is addictive, did you know your brain sees the heat caused by spicy food as pain? It then releases endorphins or natural painkillers to ease it. Endorphins are the molecule of happiness, so you can actually get a bit high on heat.
The spiciness in chili comes from a natural chemical called capsaicin. The more capsaicin there’s in your food, the more it will burn your mouth.
Many countries use lots of chili in their food, from Asian countries to India and of course, Mexico. The complete list of chilies available is exhaustive, but these are the five most representative at each spiciness level.
Note: Pungency in chili is measured in SHUs or Scoville Heat Units.
1,000 – 1,500 SHU
Poblano peppers might look scary, but they’re ten times hotter than Italian pepperoncini. These big, bulky peppers look more like regular bell peppers and are often filled with minced meat or cheese. The dark green peppers are big enough to be successfully deveined and deseeded to make them virtually harmless.
Anaheim peppers are another chili with similar heat levels. If you’re not used to spicy food, you might want to start with these.
3,500 – 4,500 SHU
Jalapeño is a popular addition to green salsas, guacamole and nachos. We all love their fresh and spicy flavor. Slightly hot, chances are you can handle the heat. Toss a few sliced jalapeños into your hamburger or pizza and start reaping those endorphins.
Some chilis with similar spiciness include Guajillo and Hungarian peppers.
Did you know dried and smoked jalapeño becomes the ever-popular Chipotle?
7,000 – 25,000 SHU
These small chilis pack some heat! Serranos are often used in green salsas. Use gloves, because, from this heat level on, your skin and eyes might start to feel the chili’s temperament.
Did you know this chili is widely grown in the US? They can be found all year round and can be green, red, or yellow depending on their maturity.
Other chilis in this level of heat are Chile de Arbol and Manzano.
200,000 to 300,000 SHU
This is the spiciest commercial chili and is simply on another level. Habanero is consumed in southern Mexico and is often chopped and mixed with cured onions. Believe it or not, people in the area are used to nibble habanero peppers during their meals.
Habanero growers have been selectively breeding hotter and hotter varieties and now offer spice levels of over 1,000,000. Don’t believe us? Get yourself a Ghost pepper or a Carolina Reaper, under your own risk.
Here’s a pro tip. Wash away the chilis pungency with fat and dairy. A glass of milk will prevent your mouth from feeling the capsaicin’s burning sensation. Since capsaicin is not water soluble, a glass of water will help very little.
Now you know it, say yes to chili, add a spoonful of salsa to your tacos or sprinkle some chili flakes to your pizza; add some jalapeño to your guac, or get yourself some killer hot wings. Yes, you might start to sweat, but hey, happiness is worth it. Remember, no pain no gain.