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Chili peppers nutrition facts

Chili peppers, despite their fiery “hotness” are one of very popular spices known for medicinal and health benefiting properties. The chili is actually a fruit pod from the plant belonging to the nightshade family of solanaceae, of the genus; capsicum. Scientific name: Capsicum annum. Some common members of nightshade family are tomato, auburgine, tobacco etc.

Several cultivars of peppers are grown all around the world. The chilli plant is native to Central American region where it was used as spicy ingredient in Mexican cuisines for several thousand years. It was introduced to the rest of the world by Spanish and Portuguese explorers during 16th and 17th centuries and now grown widely in many parts of the world as an important commercial crop.

Chilli plant is a perennial small shrub with woody stem growing up to a meter height and bears white colored flowers. The pods are very variable in size, shape, color, and pungency. Depending on the cultivar type, they range from the mild, fleshy, Mexican bell peppers to the tiny, fiery, finger-like chili peppers, commonly grown in Indian subcontinent. The hotness of chili is measured in “Scoville heat units” (SHU). On the Scoville scale, a sweet bell pepper scores 0, a jalapeño pepper around 2,500-4,000 and a Mexican habañeros 200,000 to 500,000.

Interiorly, each fruit features numerous tiny, white, or cream colored, circular and flat seeds. The seeds are actually clinging on either side to central white placenta.

To harvest, chilies can be picked up while they are green or when they reach complete maturity and dried in the plant. Usually, the fruits are picked up by hand when they are matured and turned red. They are then left to dry which causes them to shrivel. Chilies have strong spicy taste that comes to them from the active alkaloid compounds capsaicin, capsanthin and capsorubin.

Health benefits of chili peppers

  • Chili pepper contains impressive list of plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties.

  • Chillies contain health benefiting an alkaloid compound in them, capsaicin, which gives strong spicy pungent character. Early laboratory studies on experimental mammals suggest that capsaicin has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties. It also found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels in obese individuals.

  • Fresh chili peppers, red or green, are rich source of vitamin-C. 100 g fresh chilies provide about 143.7 mcg or about 240% of RDA. Vitamin C is a potent water-soluble antioxidant. It is required for the collagen synthesis in the body. Collagen is the main structural protein in the body required for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs, and bones. Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps body protect from scurvy; develop resistance against infectious agents (boosts immunity) and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.

  • They are also good in other antioxidants like vitamin A, and flvonoids like beta-carotene, alpha carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthins. These antioxidant substances in capsicum helps to protect body from injurious effects of free radicals generated during stress, diseases conditions.

  • Chillies contain good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.

  • Chillies are also good in B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin and thiamin (vitamin B-1). These vitamins are essential in the sense that body requires them from external sources to replenish.

Chilli peppers have amazingly high levels of vitamins and minerals. Just 100 g provides (in % of Recommended daily allowance)

240% of vitamin-C (Ascorbic acid),
39% of vitamin B-6 (Pyridoxine),
32% of vitamin A,
13% of iron,
14% of copper,
7% of potassium,  
but no cholesterol.

Principle Nutrient Value Percentage of RDA
Energy 40 Kcal 2%
Carbohydrates 8.81 g 7%
Protein 1.87 g 3%
Total Fat 0.44 g 2%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Dietary Fiber 1.5 g 3%

Folates 23 mcg 6%
Niacin 1.244 mg 8%
Pantothenic acid 0.201 mg 4%
Pyridoxine 0.506 mg 39%
Riboflavin 0.086 mg 6.5%
Thiamin 0.72 mg 6%
Vitamin A 952 IU 32%
Vitamin C 143.7 mg 240%
Vitamin E 0.69 mg 4.5%
Vitamin K 14 mcg 11.5%

Sodium 9 mg 0.5%
Potassium 322 mg 7%

Calcium 14 mg 1.5 %
Copper 0.129 mg 14%
Iron 1.03 mg 13%
Magnesium 23 mg 6%
Manganese 0.187 mg 8%
Phosphorus 43 mg 6%
Selenium 0.5 mcg 1%
Zinc 0.26 mg 2%

Carotene-ß 534 mcg --
Carotene-? 36 mcg --
Cryptoxanthin-ß 40 mcg --
Lutein-zeaxanthin 709 mcg --

Selection and storage

Chili peppers are available year around in the markets either in the fresh, dried or powdered form. In the store, buy fresh chili peppers instead of powder since, oftentimes it may contain adulterated spicy mixtures.

Look for raw, fresh chilies featuring brilliant color (green, yellow, orange, red depending on the variety), with healthy stalk, wholesome and compact. Avoid those with spots or those spoiled tips and inflicted by molds.

Once at home, should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag where they will stay fresh for about a week. Completely dried red chilies are also available in the markets. Dry chillies can be stored at room temperature in a cool, dark place and in airtight containers for many months; can be milled to powder using hand mill as and when required. If you want to buy dry chili powder instead, go for the authentic and branded products. Powdered chili pepper should be stored in cool place in airtight containers.

Medicinal uses

  • Chili peppers contain chemical compound capsaicin. Capasicin and its co-compounds used in the preparation of ointments, rubs and tinctures for their astringent, counter-irritant and analgesic properties.

  • These formulations have been in use in the treatment of arthritic pain, post-herpetic neuropathic pain, sore muscles etc.

  • Scientific studies on experimental mammals suggest that capsaicin has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties. It also found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels in obese persons.

Culinary uses

Raw, fresh chilies should be washed in clean water before used in cooking in order to remove any residual fungicides, sand and soil. Chilies either fresh or powder form, can cause severe burning sensation to hands and may cause severe irritation to nasal passages, eyes and throat. Therefore, it may be advised in some sensitive individuals to use thin hand gloves and face masks while handling chilies.

Here are some serving tips:

  • Fresh raw bell peppers and sweet pepper varieties are being used as vegetables in cuisines in many parts of the world.

  • Chopped bell peppers are being used in the preparation of chili sauce, pizzas, rolls, and in variety of dishes using fish, meat and chicken in many Central American and European regions.

  • Dried chili powder is an important ingredient in spice mix known as curry powder in many Asian countries.

  • Hot chillies used as condiment in the preparation of soups, chili sauce, spicy water, vinegar-spice mix etc.

  • Chilies, soaked in yogurt and then dried under sunlight, are used as side snacks during dinner in south Indian states.

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