How does the ‘spicy compound’ change as chillies ripen

Chilli peppers
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Researchers have analysed how the capsaicinoids, the compound that gives chilli peppers their spiciness, changes at different points of ripening.

As reported in the American Chemical Societies’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers have measured amounts of both the capsaicinoid compounds and the capsinoid compounds in three type of chilli peppers as they ripen.

The spiciness of chilli peppers depends on the accumulation of capsaicinoids. Despite capsinoids having similar structures to capsaicinoids, they are around 1,000 times less spicy. Scientists have reported that both groups of compounds have similar health benefits, including; antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, pain relief and anti-obesity effects.

The lower spiciness of capsinoids could make them a more promising candidate for the development of drugs and supplements. Ana Garcés-Claver and colleagues from the American Chemical Society, wanted to analyse the capsaicinoid and capsinoid content of three different types of chili pepper as they ripen. The spicy Chiltepin and Tampiqueño 74 from Mexico, and the super-hot Bhut Jolokia from India, were analysed as part of this study.

Using sensitive mass spectrometry techniques, researchers found that capsinoids in all three peppers began to accumulate 20 days after the flowers on the plant opens. They also discovered that the fruit reaches peak levels of capsinoids after 40 days. The team of researchers also found that capsinoids decrease until 60 days after the plant flowers.

In contrast to the capsinoids, capsaicinoid accumulation varies between the different types of pepper. In the Chiltepin and Tampiqueño 74 peppers, capsaicinoid accumulation follows a very similar pattern. However, in the Bhut Jolokia, capsaicinoids were detected far earlier, at 10 days after flowering, reaching maximum capsaicinoids later than the others. This allows the pepper to accumulate higher levels of the spicy compound.

The results of this study will guide the future chilli breeding studies as well as providing a deeper understanding of the factors that affect capsinoid and capsaicinoid accumulation.

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