If you’re a fan of habero salsa or like to order Thai food spiced to five stars, you owe a lot to bugs, both the crawling kind and ones you can see only with a microscope. New research shows they are the ones responsible for the heat in chili peppers.
The spiciness is a defense mechanism that some peppers develop to suppress a microbial fungus that invades through punctures made in the outer skin by insects. The fungus, from a large genus called Fusarium, destroys the plant’s seeds before they can be eaten by birds and widely distributed.
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However, the researchers found that the pungency, or heat, in hot chilies acts as a unique defense mechanism. The pungency comes from capsaicinoids, the same chemicals that protect them from fungal attack by dramatically slowing microbial growth.
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[read more Bugs put the heat in chili peppers]
Another thing to remember if you want your peppers hot, is to go easy on the water. You want to keep the plant from wilting or being unhappy, but no more than that.
What’s so hot about chili peppers?