General Chilli Facts
The heat in chillies comes from an alkaloid chemical called Capsaicin of which there are many different types, this is one of the reasons why heat from different chillies is felt in different parts of the mouth. Contrary to popular belief the capsaicin is not contained in the seeds but in the placenta which is the fleshy strip inside the fruit to which the seeds are attached. The cells which contain the capsaicin have a high internal pressure so that when the chilli is broken or sliced open they burst, spraying the chemical over the inside of the pod. Heat is traditionally measured in Scoville units, invented by Mr Wilbur Scoville. The principle was that a chilli was blended into sugar water and then diluted until it was no longer detectable by taste. This is a bit of a hit and miss process, so nowadays "Scoville Tests" are done using liquid chromatography and translated back into Scoville Units.
How to combat the burn
The best antidote to heat is either patience, or a dairy product such as milk or yoghurt. Drinking beer is one of the worst things you can do, as the alcohol washes the heat further into your taste buds.
Chillies are selected for many reasons other than heat. Not only do they vary in flavour they are also used for stuffing, pickling, drying and smoking so factors such as the size, thickness of the skin and thickness of the flesh will affect your choice.
Dried chillies can be reconstituted by covering them in boiling water and leaving them to stand for 20 minutes or so. They can then be mixed into a dish as they are or blended before adding. Some such as Ancho and Mulato chillies have quite thick skins so may need pushing through a sieve to take the bits out first.
There is usually no reason why dried chillies can't be powdered instead of soaking. The main advantage of storing them dried whole rather than as powder is that powder will quickly lose the aromas and flavours so there is nothing to stop you grinding them in a coffee grinder and using the powder.
You can dry your own chillies by hanging them either in the sun if the air is dry or in an airing cupboard. For something more serious try a foil lined box with a light bulb in it, which should do the trick in a day or two.
"Chilli" or "Chile" - The choice is yours, "chile" is the more usual spelling in the USA, and "chilli" is generally accepted as the correct UK spelling. You may also see "chili" which is also used in the USA. We have decided to use the UK spelling since that is where we are, but you may occasionally catch us using "chile".