Chilli Misconceptions 1: It’s All About the Pungency

It’s a point that’s always made, always used for marketing purposes, but not made any more true by repetition or the constant record-seeking: if you like chilli, you must be in it for the burn. And for the truer chilehead, it’s “the hotter, the better.”

Of course that’s true for some, and equally of course, the pungency is a major characteristic of the chile peppers.


It’s not all about the heat, though.


The easiest illustration, but also perhaps the most remote one, are the bell peppers. They are still ‘chile,’ berries (as they would botanically be seen as) of plants of the genus Capsicum; to be more exact: Capsicum annuum L.

It’s just that they have been bred to be large-fruited, thick-walled, and non-pungent. But other chiles/chilli are also not or at least only a little pungent and yet popular.

After all, not everyone wants to get burned, and not every dish calls for extreme pungencies.


It’s only that some of the more extreme lovers of chilli, especially when they get caught up in shows of machismo, go for extreme feats of endurance and want the hottest of peppers. And from the marketing perspective, it’s perfect. Nothing gets attention more easily, especially in this attention economy of ours, than the most extreme things and actions and the most outrageous of claims.

You think of chilli, you think “hot” – and you might go and check which variety is the current record holder in pungency. Preferably, and most easily, the record holder according to the Guiness Book of World Records.


It’s so much easier than considering, let alone marketing, what might be the right pungency and flavor for a particular dish.

Look more closely at the ways chile peppers are actually used, wherever they have a long history of use, though, and you will find that this is the major concern. Eating hot and hotter and showing what one’s made of is a popular game, but it’s just a side show.

For good reason, because there are flavors and aromas as well as pungencies, and the manifold varieties of chilli, far from what the misconception that it’s all just about the heat may have one believe, are hardly the same – which is going to be the theme of the next installment in this series.

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