No Seeds = No Mojo?

Don’t worry, capsaicin addicts (especially you, reader Malini), de-seeding a chile does very little to diminish its heat. Yes, the seeds contain some of that crazy fire juice, but the vast, vast majority of it is found in the placental regions of the pepper, in other words the pale tissues that stretch along the inner walls of the pepper and connect to the base of the stem. This is where about 90% of the capsaicin in the chile is kept. Remove the seeds (which are attached to the placenta) and you do little to reduce the chile’s punch.

Thus it stands to reason that if you really want to to de-fang a chile — a fresh one, not a dried one — cut the chile into strips, lay the strips flat on the counter with the interior facing up, and trim the placenta off by laying the blade of a knife flat on the flesh and running it along its length. You’ll be amazed at the difference in flavor. Even a habanero can become sweet and fruity with the pain-inducing parts removed.

So the natural question becomes: why does capsaicin, you know, hurt? Obviously the chile plant wants it that way, so we large mammals will leave its berries the heck alone (birds are another matter, which is why capsaicin doesn’t effect them). The interesting and insidious thing about the capsaicin alkaloid is that it doesn’t do any actual damage to our tissues, but it does a great job of fooling our brains into thinking so. Capsaicin binds to the pain receptors in moist, sensitive tissues like those in the mouth, throat, eyes, nose and under the fingernails. There it does the chemical equivalent of shouting “fire!” in a crowded movie house — at which point most of us run screaming for the exits.

Of course chiles pack varying amounts of heat depending on the variety. Ancho chiles — my go-to dried chiles — are quite mild by chile standards, scoring a mere 2,500 or so on the Scoville scale, a tool that measures the relative “heat” of chiles. To put that into perspective, a bell pepper scores zero on the Scoville scale, a jalepeño about 4,000, a tabasco about 40,000 and the notorious habanero about 250,000. In the event you’re curious, the world’s hottest pepper is currently the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T, a specimen of which recently registered 1,463,700 on the Scoville scale — besting the previous record holder, the Naga Viper, by some 80,000 units.

What to do if you ever, by some strange quirk of fate, find yourself with a mouthful of those? Spit them out, that’s job one. Job two is to quickly find a food or drink that’s high in casein, a protein that binds to capsaicin molecules and for all intents and purposes “deactivates” them. Casein is found in milk and cheese, so some of either will help. Me I think a cottage or farmer’s cheese does the best, and it works surprisingly fast. Failing that, a lot of running around and screaming isn’t a bad option. At the very least it provides your fellow diners with some cheap entertainment.

6 thoughts on “No Seeds = No Mojo?”

  1. I appreciate ethnic foods that require a whole, hot, dried chili to marinate with the other ingredients, temporarily, to add some heat and spice to the overall flavor of a particular dish. What I don’t understand is why someone would add a lot of a particularly hot chili to an entree and render it so hot it overpowers the other flavors and makes the dish practically inedible. The condiments available with those high heat factors are one thing; a person can control the amount of heat they add to an individual serving. But, there are the chili salsas offered with chips that seem to be an indirect challange to guests. First, to see the reaction of said guest, and then, gauge how they “man-up” to it. It’s a perfect food item to turn into competition!

    1. I think it’s the endorphin rush, but I’m with you, food that’s completely obscured by heat seems hardly worth the time!

  2. Did anyone see the Top Chef quickfire challenge with the chiles? The ghost pepper recipe won, even though it was the very hottest chile available to the chefs! I’m betting that guy knew the endorphin-bias that chile would lend to the judges’ ruling. 🙂

  3. You become inured to it after a while though. I once served a chili dish I thought was quite mild, but the guests couldn’t cope with it at all. They were my son’s friends and had obviously not been exposed to much heat in food. Likewise, my stepmother made a chile con carne at her “continental cookery” class whan I was a kid – we couldn’t eat it. The whole thing went down the toilet. I think she said it had something like a teaspoon of cayenne pepper in it.

    1. That’s so true. I try not to tell cancer stories on the blog, but I remember going through chemo, capsaicin was the only thing I could eat that would cut the film on my tongue, put there by the chemical cocktail I was on. I ate hot, hot salsa as an appetizer for every meal, since it allowed me to taste (correctly) everything I ate afterward. After a few months I built up quite a tolerance.

      In time I had my first pastry job, working in a kitchen filled with Mexicans, who come from a teasing culture. I remember one day one of the true clowns of the kitchen sat down with me and a few others for lunch. He plopped a fresh jalapeno down on my plate and invited me to dig in. Evidently it was Make Fun of the Gringo day. Well I munched that thing down like a carrot while he sweated through every bite of his own. The guys were in stitches…and poor Onofre never lived it down.

      That was the high water mark of my capsaicin tolerance. I could never do that now. But it’s sure a fun memory.

      – Joe

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