The World's Healthiest Foods
Chili Pepper, Red, dried

Like cayenne pepper, red chili peppers are available throughout the year to add zest to flavorful dishes around the world and health to those brave enough to risk their fiery heat.

This is the plant that puts fire on your tongue and maybe even a tear in your eye when you eat spicy Mexican, simmering Szechuan, smoldering Indian, or torrid Thai food. Chili peppers belong to the family of foods bearing the Latin name Capsicum.

 


Health Benefits

Fight Inflammation

Chili peppers contain a substance called capsaicin, which gives peppers their characteristic pungence, producing mild to intense spice when eaten. Capsaicin is a potent inhibitor of substance P, a neuropeptide associated with inflammatory processes. The hotter the chili pepper, the more capsaicin it contains. The hottest varieties include habañero and Scotch bonnet peppers. Jalapeños are next in their heat and capsaicin content, followed by the milder varieties, including Spanish pimentos, and Anaheim and Hungarian cherry peppers.

Capsaicin is being studied as an effective treatment for sensory nerve fiber disorders, including pain associated with arthritis, psoriasis, and diabetic neuropathy. When animals injected with a substance that causes inflammatory arthritis were fed a diet that contained capsaicin, they had delayed onset of arthritis, and also significantly reduced paw inflammation.

Natural Pain Relief

Topical capsaicin is now a recognized treatment option for osteoarthritis pain. Several review studies of pain management for diabetic neuropathy have listed the benefits of topical capsaicin to alleviate disabling pain associated with this condition.

In a double-blind placebo controlled trial, nearly 200 patients with psoriasis were given topical preparations containing either capsaicin or placebo. Patients who were given capsaicin reported significant improvement based on a severity score which traced symptoms associated with psoriasis. The side effect reported with topical capsaicin cream is a burning sensation at the area of application.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Red chili peppers, such as cayenne, have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and platelet aggregation, while increasing the body's ability to dissolve fibrin, a substance integral to the formation of blood clots. Cultures where hot pepper is used liberally have a much lower rate of heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism.

Clear Congestion

Capsaicin not only reduces pain, but its peppery heat also stimulates secretions that help clear mucus from your stuffed up nose or congested lungs.

Boost Immunity

Chili peppers' bright red color signals its high content of beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A. Just two teaspoons of red chili peppers provide about 6% of the daily value for vitamin C coupled with more than 10% of the daily value for vitamin A. Often called the anti-infection vitamin, vitamin A is essential for healthy mucous membranes, which line the nasal passages, lungs, intestinal tract and urinary tract and serve as the body's first line of defense against invading pathogens.

Prevent Stomach Ulcers

Chili peppers have a bad--and mistaken--reputation for contributing to stomach ulcers. Not only do they not cause ulcers, they can help prevent them by killing bacteria you may have ingested, while stimulating the cells lining the stomach to secrete protective buffering juices.

Lose Weight

All that heat you feel after eating hot chili peppers takes energy--and calories to produce. Even sweet red peppers have been found to contain substances that significantly increase thermogenesis (heat production) and oxygen consumption for more than 20 minutes after they are eaten.

Description

This is the plant that puts fire on your tongue and maybe even a tear in your eye when you eat spicy Mexican, simmering Szechuan, smoldering Indian, or torrid Thai food. Chili peppers belong to the family of foods bearing the Latin name Capsicum.

There are hundreds of different types of chili peppers that vary in size, shape, color, flavor and “hotness.” This fleshy berry features many seeds inside a potent package that can range from less than one inch to six inches in length, and approximately one-half to one inch in diameter. Chili peppers are usually red or green in color.

Cayenne, habañero, chipotle, jalapeño, anaheim and ancho are just some of the popular varieties available. Ground chili peppers are used to make chili powder, cayenne powder and paprika. Chili peppers are used as a food and seasoning and revered for their medicinal qualities.

History

It's not surprising that chili peppers can trace their history to Central and South America, regions whose cuisines are renowned for their hot and spicy flavors. Chili peppers have been cultivated in these regions for more than seven thousand years, first as a decorative item and later as a foodstuff and medicine.

It was not until the 15th and 16th centuries that chili peppers were introduced to the rest of the world. Christopher Columbus encountered them on his explorations of the Caribbean Islands and brought them back to Europe. There, they were used as a substitute for black pepper, which was very expensive since it had to be imported from Asia.

Explorer Ferdinand Magellan is credited with introducing chili peppers into Africa and Asia, continents that have since incorporated them into their cuisines and pharmacopeias. Chili peppers are now grown on all continents, however, China, Turkey, Nigeria, Spain and Mexico are among the largest commercial producers.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

Tips for Cooking with Chili Peppers:

Be very careful when you are handling and cooking fresh chili peppers. One of the peppers’ most pungent compounds, capsaicin, can cause a severe burning sensation if it touches your skin or lips, or comes in contact with your eyes.

Because of this, some people prefer to wear thin rubber gloves when working with chili peppers. If you choose not to do this, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands after handling them. Additionally, you should wash your knife and cutting board after cutting these peppers.

Capsaicin primarily resides in the seeds and fleshy white inner membranes. If you want to enjoy the pungency of peppers but minimize their heat, you can remove these parts, although capsaicin is responsible for much of chili pepper’s healing properties.

There is a range of “hotness” between pepper varieties and sometimes also within the same varieties. Therefore, each time you cook with them you may need to adjust the amount you use. Before adding chili peppers to a recipe, taste a little piece to determine the spice level, so you will know how much to add.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

The next time you make healthy sautéed vegetables, add some chili peppers to turn up the spice volume.

Add chili peppers to your favorite corn bread recipe to give it an extra spark.

Add minced chili peppers to yogurt and use as a condiment or dip.

Add jalapeños to your favorite tuna salad recipe.

If your curry dishes need a little extra zip, try adding some chili peppers.

Purée fresh chili peppers together with olive oil, garlic, coriander, peppermint, and caraway. If you would like, add your own favorite herbs and spices to this mixture to make your own version of Harissa, a condiment popular in the some Middle Eastern and North African countries.

Safety

Capsaicin can irritate or burn your eyes or hands. Chili oil can stick to the skin, so wash hands thoroughly after handling the peppers and be cautious about touching your hands to your eyes. Be aware that pepper dust from grinding dried peppers can irritate throat and eyes. You can protect yourself by wearing a dust mask and goggles.

If you find you can't take the heat, cool off with a glass of milk. A protein in milk called casein can help douse capsaicin's fire.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Chili Peppers, Red, Dried
2.00 tsp
25.50 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin A 531.60 IU 10.6 7.5 very good
dietary fiber 2.64 g 10.6 7.5 very good
vitamin C 3.84 mg 6.4 4.5 very good
potassium 126.00 mg 3.6 2.5 good
iron 0.60 mg 3.3 2.4 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • Attal N. Chronic neuropathic pain: mechanisms and treatment. Clin J Pain 2000 Sep;16(3 Suppl):S118-30.
  • Ellis CN, Berberian B, et al. A double-blind evaluation of topical capsaicin in pruritic psoriasis. J Amer Acad Dermatol 29:438-42 1993.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Joe B, Lokesh BR. Prophyloatcitc and therapeutic effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, capsaicin and curcumin on adjuvant induced arthritis in ratsl. Nutr Biochem 1997;8:397-407.
  • Kempaiah RK, Srinivasan K. Integrity of erythrocytes of hypercholesterolemic rats during spices treatment. Mol Cell Biochem 2002 Jul;236(1-2):155-61.
  • Rains C, Bryson HM. Topical capsaicin. A review of its pharmacological properties and therapeutic potential in post-herpetic neuralgia, diabetic neuropathy and osteoarthritis. Drugs Aging 1995 Oct;7(4):317-28.
  • Robbins W. Clinical applications of capsaicinoids. Clin J Pain 2000 Jun;16(2 Suppl):S86-9.
  • Schnitzer TJ. Non-NSAID pharmacologic treatment options for the management of chronic pain. Am J Med 1998 Jul 27;105(1B):45S-52S.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-19 16:44:23
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation