Posts Tagged ‘Recipes’

“It tastes like burning!” How (and why) chili brings the heat

// December 21st, 2009 // 2 Comments » // How Things Work, Poisons, Science at Home

Capsaicin Necklace

Last night I made spicy Dhall for dinner, because lentils and peas may be high in protein, but they’re also really lame. I used a recipe from an old English cookbook from the 70’s with all pounds and ounces. Couldn’t be bothered converting stuff, so I made it up along the way. Hell, that’s the only way to cook. Here’s a quick recipe.

That this will make a vegetarian high protein meal that doesn’t taste like boredom.

1. Boil lentils or split peas or whatever in water until soft.
2. Melt 50 g of butter and cook an onion, a chili and some cumin, coriandar and cinnamon in a separate pan.
3. Combine the shizz in both the pans together with a can o’ tomatoes and add spices till it tastes good.

It took a bit of experimenting spice-wise to get it nummy, but the final result supported my hypothesis. There was much noms.

During the cooking process I had to remove the chili seeds and membranes ‘cos that’s the done thing, and the whole “delicately extract with a knife” thing really wasn’t working for me (I prefer the roughly stabbing kind of knifery) so I just took it out with my fingers. Big mistake. They were burning all night. As I laid in my bed and cried “WHY?” I wondered “why?” What’s the SCIENCE?

The one responsible for the ouchy-pain is a long guy called capsaicin (and a few of his brothers), mainly found in the membranes around the seeds. It’s flavourless and works by activating pain receptors in nerves, specifically the receptor TRPV1 which usually opens at temperatures above 43 C. Opening causes positive ions to enter en masse, causing the membrane to depolarise and the neuron to fire, discussed here in Frankensteiny detail. There are loads of different pain receptors in your body – each one triggers at a different temperature or pressure. Some are linked directly to motor nerves, so you can react to a hot pan by pulling your hand away faster than you’re brain can say “Ow!”. When you have some chili (or get it all over your skin like I did) your nerve cells actually think you’re on fire.

Making big molecules like capsaicin is a pain in the ass, so there has to be a butt-kicking reason to do it or plants wouldn’t bother. Even if they liked it spicy like Cartmans hand.

My name is Jennifer Lopez I eat tacos y burritos

The heat of a hot chili doesn’t stop humans eating it (quite the contrary), but a mouse or a cow might be less inclined to munch a bunch once they’d tried some. That’s good, because herbivores are fond of chewing things which destroys the seeds. Birds are unaffected by capsaicin and can happily eat chili peppers all the time, good for the plant again – birds aren’t great at chewing, but they are VERY good at flying around and crapping out seeds.

Capsaicin is also an antifungal and antibacterial, and protects the plant with it’s awesome microbe fighting power. It also protects your curry from the evils of mould and might even impart some health benefits. The molecule keeps shape at high temperatures, which is why you can cook the hell out of a curry and it will still taste spicy. It doesn’t dissolve in water, so you’re better off drinking milk if you feel the burn, casein protein acts like a detergent and captures the chili into small ineffective globs. I guess drinking soap would work too, but milk is probably tastier. Ever tried soap? (Some smell so good I can’t resist. You’d think I would know better by now.)

This post would not be complete without a plea for someone to send me chili chocolate icecream. I had it once and I must have it again! The search will never cease until I am in it’s hot chocolatey frozen embrace once again. Seriously, have you ever tried it? It’s the spiciest thing I’ve ever had and paradox in a waffle cone.

A recipe for eggnog, and notes on the spice-drug nutmeg

// November 30th, 2009 // 5 Comments » // Drugs, Just for Fun, Science at Home


Arr, it be that time of the year when all the good cabin boys hang their stockings off the mainsail and cook gets busy making eggnog.

My harbour is in Australia, so eggnog is not a favourite of mine. The rich, milkiness of the drink is ill-suited for the hot Yuletides we experience, and a glass of ice-cold fermented grape is better suited for the clime.

All the same, eggnog is TRADITION, and is a particularly piratey tradition when you make it with RUM! Here be a recipe for the delicious December drink, made piratey by your Captain but sourced from yon landlubber website.

6 eggs (parrot)
2.5 cups whipping cream
2 cups whole milk (powdered variety easiest for storage)
1 cup caster sugar
0.5 cup dark rum
0.5 cup brandy (substitute with more rum if you can)
0.5 teaspoon vanilla extract
0.5 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated

Beat the eggs until frothy (the eggs, not your mouth), add sugar and beat, sprinkle in nutmeg and vanilla and beat, add in the whipped cream slowly while beating, add the grog and beat. Chill for an hour belowdecks and serve cold to your shipmates.

Beating is the best way to mix ingredients as it lets out your inner anger and anguish which otherwise may turn rancid and make you bitter inside. If Ahab had made eggnog during his voyage on the Pequod it is likely that the events leading to his death would never have occurred, and he would be living to this day a happy one-legged individual. Beating also gives you most excellent biceps that will strike fear into the hearts of your enemies.

Ye may notice a certain buzz upon drinking your concoction, which ye may blame on the rum (you DID add extra rum, right? Don’t stop at a measly half a cup.) Well ye are most likely right, but all the same, did ye know nutmeg can be a drug? That’s right, melange is not the only spice-drug. Nutmeg be a creepy looking thing, a seed wrapped tightly by bright red tentacles of another spice called mace.

Nutmeg and Mace

Nutmeg is in certain doses hallucinogenic. The effects, by all accounts, are not enjoyable. You see, nutmeg contains myristicin, which is a weak monoamine oxidase inhibitor – you may be familiar with that term as a class of antidepressant. In high doses (of a couple of tablespoons) nutmeg can cause hallucinations and euphoria, but before you go reaching for that spice rack let me tell you of the side-effects, including nausea, bloodshot eyes, dry mouth, anxiety, convulsions and palpitations. Plus it kicks in after three hours (making it a likely candidate for a this-isn’t-working-try-more overdose) and lasts for about five hours. Plus the bragging rights are non-existent. “Oh dude, I did like two tablespoons of nutmeg this weekend!” HARDCORE!

All things considered, I’ll be sticking to my rum-filled eggnog, and adding spice-drug just for flavour. This one’s to yer health.

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