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Chillis - a red hot export?

Adelaide may be the capital of South Australia, but its Mediterranean climate lends itself to a Mediterranean cuisine. Most gardens can boast a good crop of tomatoes, grape vines prosper, while olives do so well that they have gone feral, invading the Adelaide Hills as a serious environmental pest. With a touch of global warming, they might yet be replaced by feral chillies.

Chillies are the fruit of various Capsicum species, a diverse group which produces not only capsicums, which are eaten raw or cooked, but spices such as chilli, prepared by drying the fruit and grinding it to a powder. These spices provide the characteristic hotness of Asian and South American foods.

Chillies originated in South America. While they now grow worldwide, the warmer sub-tropical regions produce the hottest chillies. Habanero is the hottest; three times more powerful than Thai chillies, and far more so than the green and red capsicums that decorate many salads.

The main quality characteristics of chillies are the colour and heat level, or pungency, but there is much more to the fruit than just their eye-watering power. Dr Andreas Klieber is studying chillies at Adelaide University's Waite Campus. His research involves determining the best conditions for growing and harvesting chillies, preparing them for spice manufacture and preventing the resultant spice from spoiling.

Chillies have traditionally been used in warm countries to cover the taste of spoiled food and also to prevent it from going bad as quickly. It is surprising, then, to discover that chilli powder is itself susceptible to mould that can produce aflatoxin, thought to be a potent carcinogen.

Currently virtually all chilli spice is imported into Australia, but a survey of 90 products showed extensive contamination with aflatoxins. "Overall only 9% of samples complied with Australian standards, with another 12% margina
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Contact: Dr Andreas Klieber
aklieber@waite.adelaide.edu.au
618-8303-6653
Adelaide University
10-Aug-2000


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