Spicy Science: Plant Evolution [Big Bite Nite]

This year, Big Bite Nite is turning up the heat! Many of our participating restaurants are spicing things up with dishes served diablo, and so we’ve been thinking a lot about spice.

Like – where does spice come from?

Radishes are spicy?
You may be surprised at the range
of plants that have spice in them!

Essentially – it comes from plants. Spice is all natural! And Smithsonian Magazine recently published a fascinating article about the evolution of spice in plant populations. To quote the article:

“The heat-generating compound in chilies, capsaicin, has long been known to affect taste buds, nerve cells and nasal membranes (it puts the sting in pepper spray). But its function in wild chili plants has been mysterious.”

In other words, despite the fact that humans enjoy  super-spicy salsa, fiery Indian vindaloo or eye-watering wasabi – and that we’ve been “spicing up…food with chilies for at least 8,000 years” – there doesn’t seem to be an immediately obvious reason for plants to develop this characteristic.

So, as often happens when science meets an unanswered question, studies were undertaken. And as it turns out: “the more capsaicin, the less fungal infection.” And since fungus thrives in humid environments,  “the moister the climate, the spicier the chilies.” This is why hot chilies typically come from hot regions of the world.

Fascinating! And – we wanted to know more. So, we met up with Nancy, a botanist in addition to being our curator of entomology, Director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center, and blogger for BEYONDbones to explore the science behind the spice. Check it out in the video below!

Can’t see the movie? Click here to view it.

In the meantime, here are some other fascinating tidbits from the article:

  • Chilies aren’t really hot – capsaicin stimulates neural receptors in your tongue and skin that detect rising temperatures.
  • We really like spice – and chilies spread around the world with great speed. “Within 50 years of Columbus’ voyages, Pernambuco chilies were being cultivated in India, Japan and China. Chilies made it to the American Colonies with the English in 1621.”
  • Traces of chilies have been found “on ancient milling stones and cooking pots from the Bahamas to southern Peru.”

Check out the full Smithsonian article here. And, check out what’s happening for Big Bite Nite on April 29 – and enter to win tickets to the event, as well as check out the other videos in our spicy video series – at the event web site.

Sizzlin’ Cool: Fun Facts for Summer

Some folks on our fine planet are thermally challenged at the moment, donning jackets to venture out of their homes. We, on the other hand, melt when we step outside and feel the sun’s merciless wrath. In desperate need of a distraction, I compiled a list of fun facts about all things hot and cold. Enjoy!

Jiminy Cricket
Creative Commons License photo credit: azrainman

*A cricket’s chirp frequency fluctuates with temperature. What does this mean? You can tell the temperature (in Fahrenheit) by counting the number of times a cricket chirps in 15 seconds. Just add 37 to whatever number you reach and BAM you have an approximate outside temp!

*In New York in 1988, the temperature hovered above 90°F for 32 days. In that time, the murder rate increased by 75%! (Maybe someone should’ve opened an ice cream shop up there…)

*There really aren’t negative temperatures. We only use them because we convert from Kelvin (K) to degrees Celsius (C°) and Fahrenheit (F°). 0 K is absolute zero, the coldest anything can be anywhere in the universe, which equals -460°F. The coldest science has come to this on Earth is just below -459.99999°F. (If you want to learn why we just can’t quite seem to reach absolute zero, try reading up on infinite smallness.)

Antarctica: Castle Rock Adventure
Creative Commons License photo credit: elisfanclub

*Snow made using snow-making equipment is absolutely natural! The difference is mainly the suspension time in the air. Flakes that fall from clouds float for around 3 to 5 minutes. Their man-made counterparts last only 2 to 15 seconds in the air.

*The highest recorded temperature at the South Pole is 7°F.

Now for the mind blowing-est, coldest, hottest thing you can think of…

*One of the loftiest volcanoes in the world is surrounded by ice on the coldest continent, Antarctica!!! Mount Erebus is less than 900 miles from the South Pole, but is has been continuously active since 1972.

Cool out with Molly & the Ringwalds at Mixers!

It’s summer in Houston and that means that the humidity is knocking at the door.

dancing-under-dinosaurs-2Most ladies dread that frizzed out hair look, but not you! You’re going to make the best of that crazy do by putting on that off the shoulder shirt from Express, those white hot leggings from American Apparel, and you’re going to Vogue like Madonna always wanted!

Go ahead, pair that crazy outfit with checkered keds - why? Because Molly & the Ringwalds will be playing at Mixers & Elixirs this Friday night! That means the craziest, coolest, most tubular band is going to ROCK OUT at HMNS under the dinos. See you at 6 p.m.! Be there or be square!  

This week: Molly & The Ringwalds

July 3: Holiday Weekend – Mixers Resume July 10

July 10: Experience a British Invasion with The Fab 5

July 17: Join the high-energy dance floor with the bilingual band Mango Punch

Many more fabulous Mixers to come – check out mixershouston.hmns.org for more info!