How hot can you go in National Curry Week?

3 October 2022


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SCI celebrates the power of chilli peppers during National Curry Week – scientist to put chillies to the test.

Today sees the launch of the 24th UK National Curry Week 2022 – a celebration of the nation’s favourite dish. The event offers a chance to celebrate all things curry – whether cooking a spicy meal at home or eating at your favourite curry house. It also offers an opportunity to test the power of the most iconic curry ingredient – the chilli pepper. We all associate a Chicken Madras with heat but what of the chilli in the recipe? Can we actually test which chilli is going to be hotter than others and discover the reason why? Why are we choosing hotter curries and why could more chilli help our health?

On behalf of SCI’s Horticulture Group, Scientist Martin Peacock PhD, of Zimmer Peacock, will reveal some of the answers in National Curry Week. He will visit the capital’s restaurants to test out the chilli and explain to curry lovers how to ‘tone down’ or ‘rev up’ the heat in their dish. Using an electrochemical chilli heat sensor to test ‘hotness,’ he will explain how the chemistry of the chilli can affect the heat of a curry.

Martin said:

‘This year, the SCI Horticulture Group tested the nation’s chillies at an interactive stand at BBC Gardener’s World Live, and the results were surprising. Our taste for hotter curries is growing, which means we can benefit from the hidden health properties of the chilli plant.’

Capsaicin is the main substance in chilli peppers that provides the spicy heat. It binds to receptors in the mouth and the gut that detect and regulate heat (as well as being involved in the transmission and modulation of pain), hence the burning sensation that it causes in the mouth. The Scoville Heat Unit Scale (SHU), devised in 1912 by the American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, is used to classify the strength of chilli peppers.

Capsaicin is widely used as an analgesic (a pain reliever) in topical ointments, nasal sprays, and patches to relieve chronic and neuropathic pain. Clinical trials continue to investigate the potential of capsaicin for a wide range of additional pain indications and as both an anti-cancer and anti-infective agent.

Sharon Todd, SCI CEO said:

‘Our Horticulture Group covers all aspects of plant science and the application of naturals in products for everyday use is an increasing area of interest, both for climate change and health and wellbeing. National Curry Week is an excellent opportunity for us to take expert knowledge to the public as it provides an opportunity to talk about the hidden properties of plants and how they can benefit us.’

The chilli was first brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus in the 15th century. Also known as capsicum, the chilli pepper is a member of the Solanaceae family, which includes edibles such as tomatoes and aubergines but also tobacco and deadly nightshade. Of the 42 species in the capsicum genus, five have been domesticated for culinary use. Capsicum annuum includes many common varieties such as bell (sweet) peppers, cayenne and jalapenos. Capsicum chinense includes the hottest peppers such as Scotch bonnet, which is widely used in Jamaican jerk seasoning. The chilli and bell peppers that we eat are the fruit – technically berries – that result from the self-pollination of the flowers.

The Horticulture Group led the development of the SCIence garden at SCI HQ in Belgrave Square, showcasing many plants used in a wide variety of applications from medicines to foods to materials. The garden contains over 100 different plant types, each selected for their interesting and sometimes surprising properties and uses.

If you’re interested in joining the SCI Horticulture Group, find out more here.


For more information, an interview with Sharon Todd or Martin Peacock or a science demonstration, please contact Maxine Boersma on 07771 563373 or

Notes to editors:

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Martin Peacock PhD BSc (Hons)

Dr Martin Peacock is an industrial bioelectrochemist with over twenty years of biosensor experience, having had industrial roles from Abbott Diabetes to GSK, and solving technical challenges from continuous glucose monitoring to RNA analysis. In recent years Martin has set-up biosensor focused companies across the globe from Silicon Valley California to Oslo Norway.

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