As you know, I love chilies. When Kenny and I were browsing the produce section at the Princeville Foodland a few days ago, he asked me which chili I’d like to have on hand to spice up our morning eggs. We declined the jalapenos and anaheims (not spicy enough), but Kenny remembered from a past conversation with a purveyor at the Seattle farmer’s market that habaneros were supposed to be among the spiciest chilies out there. We decided it would be good to have 5 or 6 of the teeny little guys around.
That evening, we cooked up some quinoa to make a salad, with a few diced tomatoes, onions, cilantro, carrots, local oranges, olive oil, and a few squirts of lime juice. Kenny told me that he would start with “just two” habaneros – we could always add more if the salad wasn’t spicy enough.
We were in for a bit of a surprise. The salad was so spicy that we almost couldn’t eat it. Almost. It may have even been spicier than Sumalee’s 6-star spicy mango salad (though probably not). But it was also amazingly delicious, in that it-hurts-so-much-to-eat-it-but-I-can’t-stop sense. Kenny reminded me that there’s a reason for this spicy food behavior, which explains why I find chilies so addictive. According to this site (which will also teach you more than you ever wanted to know about the chemistry of spiciness), eating chilies induces a certain amount of pain, which triggers the brain to release endorphins in order to ease the pain, creating a kind of chili-induced high. It turns out that we chili fiends are basically drug addicts.
There’s also a way to quantify spiciness, known as the Scoville Unit, and as a result there is a general ranking of chilies by hotness. You can check out a nifty chart with the rankings here, ranging from sweet bell peppers (not spicy), all the way up to the naga viper, which recently beat out the infinity chili to earn the Guinness World Records title of world’s hottest chili. The verdict: the habanero (meaning from Havana) is basically the spiciest chili that’s readily available in grocery stores and the like. The naga viper is apparently an unstable hybrid incapable of reproduction, and likely won’t be making its way to the Princeville Foodland anytime soon.