By Ashley Sauve of The Vegan Chef

The weather is heating up, so bring a little spice into your life using chili peppers!

“Chili pepper” is a broad term that encompasses hundreds of different spicy fruits from similar plants. In fact, there are over 140 varieties growing in Mexico alone! This is because the plant that produces these peppers (Capsicum annum) mutates quickly, and most peppers you encounter fall under this species. It’s even thought that peppers are one of the first plants to have been domesticated, as we have archaeological evidence of chili pepper seeds dating over 6,000 years ago in Peru and Mexico.

What makes these little peppers pop? Capsaicin is the component that makes you feel the sweet burn, and it occurs in different concentrations in different parts of the plant. While it is often believed that the seeds contain the highest concentration of capsaicin, the flesh around them (especially the part closest to the stem) actually contains the most concentrated dose. So handle these parts of the pepper with care when cooking – you will even feel the burn on your skin if you don’t wear gloves when handling very hot chilis! Interestingly, the effects of capsaicin are only felt by mammals, meaning a bird could easily consume a pepper so hot it would bring tears to your eyes!

And if you’re wondering how we rank the “hotness” of a hot pepper, there’s a scale for that: the Scouville Scale. Mild, sweet Bell Peppers would rank 1-100 SHU (scouville Heat Units) while hotter peppers such as cayenne are around 30,000-50,000 SHU. The hottest pepper measured topped the scale at 2.2 MILLION SHU. Call the fire marshall.

Chili peppers are a great source of vitamin C, and are known for their metabolism boosting effects thanks to the interaction between capsaicin and “brown fat” which burns a high number of calories. Plus, they can really excite the palate without relying so heavily on sodium to boost flavour, so add chilis to your diet to kick your health up a notch!