Questions for ‘The cool science of hot peppers’

Carolina reaper

These Carolina reapers may be the world’s hottest peppers — hot enough to leave chemical burns on someone’s skin. 

Dale Thurber/ Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

To accompany feature ‘The cool science of hot peppers’


Before Reading:

1.    What is the spiciest food you’ve ever eaten? Did you like it or hate it?

2.    Can you think of a reason why sensing pain might be a good thing?

During Reading:

1.    What weapon draws on the power of chili peppers?

2.    What’s the name of the chemical that makes chilies so spicy hot?

3.    How can hot peppers make food safer to eat?

4.    Capsaicin triggers a protein in people’s cells called TRPV1. What does that protein do?

5.    How do birds help chili plants spread?

6.    According to Tibor Rohacs, how can capsaicin help combat pain?

7.    Based on the story, what is one painful health condition that chili peppers can help treat?

8.    How might chili peppers help people lose weight?

9.    What is the name of the process through which the body burns fat to produce energy?

10.  What is Thyagarajan’s “spice-proof” idea for using capsaicin to promote weight loss?

After Reading:

1.    What is a big challenge facing scientists who want to develop medicines that use capsaicin to treat medical problems?

2.    What might be some reasons why people who eat more chili peppers tend to live longer?


1.    Identify 10 different types of chili peppers, preferably from very different parts of the world. Now identify in what part of the world they were first found or where they today are most popular. Look up the typical summer temperatures for each of those regions. Check how hot each chili is on the Scoville scale (see link at end of the story). Now graph each chili’s hotness on the Scoville scale against the high summer temperatures for the region in which it evolved. Describe any trend that emerged.