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Chili hot chemistry.

In recent years, David E. and Susan K. Henderson have developed an appetite for spicy cuisines. Indeed, Susan says, "We're chili heads."

Last year, this husband-wife team of Connecticut-based analytical chemists cooked up a sabbatical project to marry their culinary and professional interests. And that study of how capsaicin -- the primary pungent chemical in hot chilies -- breaks down under the heat of frying has proven a recipe for surprise, Susan notes. Chief among their observations: evidence that hot chilies may contain a previously unrecognized antioxidant.

If confirmed, this finding would expand the repertoire of natural agents known to retard the potentially harmful oxidation of dietary fats.

The Hendersons cooked up batch after batch of capsaicin at about 400 [degrees] F for two hours -- with and without oleic acid, the primary monounsaturate in both olive and canola oils. They analyzed the resulting heat-fostered breakdown products with gas chromatography and mass spectrometry

Hot chili aficionados have reported that heating brings out a pepper's flavor. And in the just-released November Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the Hendersons report a number of thermal decomposition products that might contribute to flavor -- especially vanillin, a methyl ether responsible for vanilla's sweet smell.

Moreover, they note, though oleic acid usually oxidizes readily when heated, this oxidation "appears to be inhibited by the presence of capsaicin." Although they used rich mixes of capsaicin to oil (10 to 50 percent by weight), they also heated the oil for a long time. Still, in batches containing capsaicin, they detected less than 10 percent of oleic's normal oxidation products -- usually 1 to 2 percent of those seen when the fatty acid was heated alone.

The Hendersons teach at small local colleges -- he at Trinity in Hartford, she at Quinnipiac in Hamden. Susan says they hope to give their undergraduates a taste of this food chemistry through involvement in follow-up studies.
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Title Annotation:tests suggest capsaicin in hot chili may retard harmful oxidation of dietary fats
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Dec 12, 1992
Words:310
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