It’s fair to say we Brits have a love-hate relationship with chillies – the Marmite of the vegetable world.
But those of us who can’t take the heat are missing out on myriad health benefits.
West Dean’s 19th annual Chilli Fiesta, which takes place this weekend will be celebrating the fiery fruit with live music, gardening surgeries and cookery demonstrations.
Last year saw 22,000 people descend on West Dean College, just north of Chichester, to wander around the Walled Kitchen Garden, and see about 250 chilli varieties growing in the Victorian glasshouses.
West Dean Gardens’ supervisor and resident chilli expert Sarah Wain endorses the health benefits of the eye-watering ingredient.
She says: ‘Chillies are loaded with vitamin C, and eating fresh is best as we all know.’
The secret to the chilli’s revitalising properties lies in the chemical capsaicin, which creates that distinctive heat. Capsaicin has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol, and helps the body to dissolve fibrin, a bodily substance which creates blood clots.
Research suggests chillies can also help you lose weight. A study of 25 people by Purdue University in the United States found that those who introduced one gram of chilli flakes into their diet reduced their cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods and increased energy expenditure.
The good news is that they are easy to grow at home. Sarah, also known as Dr Chilli, has grown an award-winning range of patio chilli plants for the Royal Horticultural Society, with exotic names such as Bolivian Rainbow, Prairie Fire and Medusa.
She says: ‘If you pick your variety carefully you can find a space to grow any kind of chilli.
‘Prairie Fire, Sparkler and Riot are particularly good home varieties.’
Sarah has some sage advice for the first-time grower.
‘They drink the sun so they must have maximum light,’ she says.
‘Remember to feed chilli plants regularly, initially with seaweed extract to promote root development.
‘Use a balanced fertiliser after the first potting, and when flowers and fruits start to appear change to a fertiliser high in potassium.’
The West Dean Chilli Fiesta runs from 10.30am to 11pm on Friday and Saturday and until 9pm on Sunday.
Ticket prices range from £9.50 to £12 for a day ticket, £6 for an evening ticket, £45 for one night of camping or £90 for two nights of camping. Book online at westdean.org.uk/chilli