20 Things You Didn’t Know About Chillies: Part 1

Chillies are spicy; there's a lot of them; they come in all manner of variety, shape, colour and flavour; If don't treat them with respect, they can punish you… (read about "the widower" curry).

…These are things every chilli-lover should already have a good grasp on. But in the run up to the 20th West Dean Chilli Fiesta this August, here are the first of 20 facts about our favourite fiery fruit that you probably didn't know:

1. From across the Atlantic to our front door
Humans have been wolfing down chillies for thousands of years, even before the first West Dean Chilli Fiesta! Evidence has suggested that chillies were being grown and gathered around ancient Mexico as early as 7500 BC. Despite this, Chillies didn't find their way to European shores until 1493 when Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the Americas a year previously in search of a Western trade route to Asia.

2. Spice up ya life…
Europeans had used black pepper as a medicinal aid and to spice up their cooking since Greek and Roman times. During the middle ages, it became such a luxury item that it was even being used to pay taxes and rent.

When Columbus returned with the exciting and spicy new fruit, the face of cooking was changed forever. Read more here…

3. West Dean Gardens' ultimate collection
Since the revolutionary introduction of these spicy little plants to the rest of civilised society, chillies have become common place in homes and markets alike across the globe. There's as many chilli heads here in the UK as anywhere, but few places in the country boast such a staggering collection of chilli plants as the award winning Victorian glasshouses at West Dean Gardens.

Over 250 varieties (wow) are tended to over spring and summer by master chilli grower and Gardens Supervisor Sarah Wain. See our very own chilli superhero Sarah's top 10 chilli varieties here…

Watch Sarah Wain confess to how many different varieties of chillies she is growing for this year's 20th Anniversary Chilli Fiesta…just don't tell her husband Jim!!

4. Forget the fancy cosmetics
It has been found that face cream containing chilli has miraculous dermatological properties that when used can combat acne and other minor imperfections, as well as even combatting the ageing process! It is believed that capsaicin (the ingredient found in chillies responsible for the burning sensation we feel) also has numerous other health benefits; some of which are discussed later in this blog.

5. Aztec anti-acne…
Surprisingly, this treatment is nothing new. Aztec women used to believe that Chilli makes your skin beautiful, so much so they used to apply a paste to their skin made from chilli powder and urine! Mmmmm….

6. Elephant repellent
In North Eastern India and parts of Africa, chillies are smeared on fences and around boundaries in order to ward off nosy Elephants looking for a cheap meal. Plantations are often sprayed with a chilli pepper based liquid in order to repel the giant herbivores. As soon as the elephants get even a distant whiff, the stinging aroma sends them packing. For the Elephant lovers amongst you…watch this...

7. Elephant vs Trout: Chilli showdown…
Believe it or not, the world's largest land mammals would be no match for fish in a chilli eating contest. According to recent findings, fish have an extremely low number of "C fibres" - a type of nociceptor responsible for pain. Essentially, a fish's brain lacks the ability to consciously process the stinging sensation we're all so familiar with. So feed a fish even the most volcanic of chillies and it wouldn't even bat an eyelid…if it had any.

How spicy do you like it? Check out what can satisfy the rumblies at West Dean Chilli Fiesta this year.

8. A Chilli a day keeps the doctor at bay
Capsaicin (Cap-say-sin), the fiery chemical found in all chillies, has numerous medical benefits it would seem. It has been found to be a very effective painkiller (somewhat ironically), have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as having the effect of increasing our metabolic rate and helping dieters shed a few unwanted pounds.

Capsaicin has even been the focus of one of the latest weight loss fads, apparently sworn on by the likes of Hollywood super hunk Brad Pitt and Latina pop queen Jennifer Lopez.

However, perhaps the most incredible properties that capsaicin has been shown to possess come in the form of lowering the risk of developing tumours, as well as even helping to combat cancer! Research has shown that the chemical found in these little miracle fruit can supress the growth of human prostate cancer cells and turn off over reactive receptors that could trigger tumour growth. Read more here.

So there we have it chilli fans! More chilli facts to follow in the coming weeks. But remember when you purchase your ticket now for Chilli Fiesta, you wont just be having a good time; you'll be improving your health and keeping Elephants away too…winning!

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20 Things You Didn't Know About Chillis

Columbus lands at the Americas in 1492
Taken from a 15th Century French manuscript, this illustration shows black pepper being harvested and presented to a king
Chillis grown at West Dean Gardens
Just some of the amazing chilli varieties grown at West Dean Gardens
It has been found that face cream containing chilli has miraculous dermatological properties
In North Eastern India and parts of Africa, chillies are smeared on fences and around boundaries in order to ward off nosy Elephants
The world’s largest land mammals would be no match for fish in a chilli eating contest
Capsaicin (Cap-say-sin), the fiery chemical found in all chillies
Brad Pitt (right) and J-Lo (above) are both said to have used “chilli pills” as a dietary supplement for weight loss