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Why Are Chili Peppers So Spicy?

• November 18, 2010 • 10:34 AM

Ecologist Josh Tewksbury explains the strategy behind chili peppers producing such spicy products.

From Thailand to Mexico to India, cuisines from all over the world depend on chili peppers to give meals some zing. But what is the benefit to chili peppers for being so hot? Dr. Josh Tewksbury, an ecologist and professor at the University of Washington, discusses the spicy strategy that peppers use to ensure the survival of their seeds.

In a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, he writes that the heat-producing chemicals in peppers are practically miracle compounds for keeping seeds safe from threats.

Tewksbury talks about the many roles that pepper-spiciness plays for saving pepper seeds, from preventing all but the best seed-dispersing animals from getting anywhere near to stopping the growth of deadly fungi that would otherwise spell the end for the seeds.

To hear Curiouser & Curiouser host Jai Ranganathan interview Dr. Tewksbury, click on the podcast player above.

Music for Curiouser and Curiouser is provided by Jamie Miller and by David Matheson.

Jai Ranganathan
Dr. Jai Ranganathan is a biologist and his research focuses on questions of species conservation. He can be reached at jai.ranganathan at

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