All about chilli

They are a perennial favourite among many Singaporeans. Still, not everyone likes to pile on the chilli. Some find it just too hot to handle. Why do some people want more and more while others shy away from the fiery, zesty tang of chilli?

It is not related to their tastebuds. The ability to stomach chilli is probably a result of training or habit. Some children grow up accustomed to eating spicy food that their parents cook, while other kids are used to less spicy meals.

The hot, burning sensation that one experiences when biting into a chilli is the effect of a chemical called capsaicin, said Dr Vikneswaran Namasivayam​​, Senior Consultant, ​Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology,Singapore General Hospital (SGH),a member of the SingHealth​ group.

Capsaicin activates receptors that convey messages through the nerves to the brain, which perceives the hot sensation one associates with eating chilli, he said. Although chilli has been said to have several benefits, like anti-inflammatory properties and anti-oxidant effects, there is inadequate scientific evidence to make definitive conclusions, he said.

Link between chilli and gastric ulcers

Similarly, there is also hardly any strong scientific evidence to show that eating chilli – no matter how much – is bad for you.

Contrary to popular belief, Dr Vikneswaran said that eating chilli does not cause gastric ulcers. Ulcers, he explained, are usually caused by a bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, or by the consumption of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents such as painkillers.

In fact, a 2006 article published in the Critical Reviews In Food Science journal even reported that chilli was a "benefactor" in preventing gastric ulcers as it helps inhibit acid secretion. Still, some ENT specialists warn that very hot chillies can penetrate the tongue nerve endings, causing severe pain or discomfort.

As a general rule of thumb, listen to what your body has to say, said Dr Vikneswaran. If eating chilli brings you discomfort, stop before pleasure is transformed into pain.​

Ref. V10​