Hot Peppers an Example of Constrained Risk

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A situation where you can experience an extreme sensation, without experiencing actual harm is known as a “constrained risk.”

“Some would say that enjoying hot peppers is a good example of a constrained risk,” said Kelly McGowan, horticulture educator with University of Missouri Extension. “They are pretty easy to grow and you can have as much heat in the taste as you want to grow.”

The chemical responsible for the heat in hot peppers is known as capsaicin. Capsaicin acts on the pain receptors in the mouth, not the taste buds. The sensation has been described as agony and ecstasy combined according to McGowan.

“The brain responds to the burning sensation by raising the heart rate, increasing perspiration and release of endorphins,” said McGowan.

The heat of peppers is measured on the Scoville Scale of heat which ranges from mildly pungent to fiery hot. Pure capsaicin measures at 15,000,000. The record hot pepper measured 1,000,000 on the Scoville Scale. Bell peppers measure 0, jalepenos at 5,000 and habenaros at 300,000.

The heat in a chili pepper is located primarily in the placenta and around the seeds of the pepper.

When handling peppers with high heat a person should take some precautions. Use gloves when handling hot peppers. Do not put your hands year your eyes or mouth after handling hot peppers. Use them carefully in cook.

Fat or oil – things like milk, bread, butter or alcohol – calms the heat.

For more information, contact one of MU Extension’s horticulture specialists or educators in southwest Missouri: Patrick Byers in Webster County at (417) 859-2044, Kelly McGowan in Greene County at (417) 881-8909 or Robert Balek in Jasper County at (417) 358-2158. Individuals can also call the gardening hotline operated by the Master Gardeners of Greene County at 417-874-2963.

Source: Kelly McGowan

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