Chili peppers are a great way to add flavour and spice to dishes, without adding extra calories or fat. Depending on the colour and variety of pepper, they can be a source of vitamin A, C and E and potassium.
Here's how a few of the most popular peppers compare:
per pepper (14g)
Serrano/ per pepper
Banana/ per peppers
Vitamin A (IU)
Vitamin C (mg)
Vitamin E (mg)
Chili peppers get their heat from capsaicin, a natural compound that affects the pain receptors in the mouth and throat. Capsaicin has five separate chemical components contributing to its heat; three give an immediate sensation on the throat and tongue, while the other two cause a slower, longer-lasting hotness. The highest concentration of capsaicin is found in the white ribs and seeds of the pepper - these can be removed to reduce the pepper's hotness.
Not only does capsaicin give peppers their heat, they have also been touted to have some health benefits. Preliminary laboratory studies have linked capsaicin to being a potential cure for type 1 diabetes, lowering the risk of prostate cancer by destroying cancer cells, and most recently as published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry - it may even play a role in halting fat cell growth.
There are many varieties of chili peppers that range in size, shape, colour and most of all in taste - ranging from mild to extremely hot.
Capsaicin content can vary widely in peppers, and as a result a scale has been developed to describe the pain to your palette.
The capsaicin content is measured in Scoville units - an indication of how hot a pepper is. Â For instance, sweet bell peppers have a zero value, while a habenero has a whopping 100,000 to 300,000 units!
Here is a list of some peppers, in order from mildest to hottest...
New Mexico : 500-1000
Jalapeno: 2500 - 5000
Serrano: 10,000 - 23,000
Cayenne: 30,000 - 50,000
Scotch Bonnet: 100,000 - 250,000
Habanero: 100,000 - 300,000
Pure capsaicin: 16 million...ouch!
Choose peppers with deep, vivid colours, and avoid those that are shriveled or have soft spots.
As a general guideline, the bigger the chili, the milder it is. Smaller peppers tend to be a lot spicier because, proportionally, they contain more seeds and veins than larger peppers.
Store peppers in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator for best results.
Capsaicin will not only set your tongue on fire - it has the potential to irritate the flesh as well - this is why it is extremely important to wash your hands well after handling a pepper. For anyone who has accidentally rubbed their eyes or nose after preparing a pepper, they will understand! Consider using rubber gloves when cutting and seeding a pepper to avoid any accidental contact with skin.
Cooking or freezing will not diminish capsaicin's potency - so the only way to remove some of the heat is by removing the seeds before cooking.
If reaching for a tall glass of water after eating a chili pepper is your idea of relief - think again. Capsaicin is oil based, and therefore does not mix with water. In fact, water may actually distribute the capsaicin to more parts of the mouth.Â Instead try drinking a glass of milk, eating some rice or a piece of bread to relieve the burning sensation.
Healthy Ways to Enjoy:
- Mix chopped peppers into a stir-fry for some added heat
- Add a few slices of hot peppers to an omelet
- Spice up a sandwich by adding some chopped peppers to tuna or chicken salad
- Stir in some peppers to guacamole for added flavour
- Add chopped chili peppers to your favourite cornbread for some added kick
- Add a thin slice of pepper to homemade sushi
- Try experimenting with different peppers in homemade chili for variations of flavour and heat
Did you know?
- Guinness World Records confirmed that a professor at New Mexico State University discovered the world's hottest chili pepper - the Bhut Jolokia - it measures 1,001,304 Scoville Heat Units!
- Archeological evidence suggests chili peppers were domesticated over 6000 years ago in Ecuador
- Ever wonder why a food that causes pain is so popular? One theory is that the discomfort in the mouth causes the brain to produce endorphins, these are natural opiates that give pleasure
- There are over 200 varieties of chiles - over 100 of which are indigenous to MexicoÂ