The chili pepper was named a “pepper” by Christopher Columbus during a Caribbean exploration when he noted its spicy hot taste was similar to that of black pepper, and assumed the two were related. They are not, but the name stuck. Once their culinary potential became known, chili peppers were a welcome stand-in for the very costly black peppercorns. Soon after Columbus brought them home to Spain, chili peppers were being cultivated from Africa and India to Asia and the Middle East. To our benefit today, chili peppers turn up the heat and the health benefits of many cuisines around the globe.
The hundreds of different types of peppers are part of the Capsicum genus in the nightshade family. The mild, bell-shaped varieties are called bell pepper, green pepper or red pepper. Spicy varieties, like Jalapenos and Anaheims, are known as chili peppers, or chilies. The chili pepper’s heat, which is most potent in the seeds and white pith, comes from capsaicin, a powerful phytochemical responsible for many antioxidant health benefits. Chili peppers are especially high in vitamin C, providing more than 100 percent DV in just one tiny pepper.
Capsaicin, which is most prevalent in red peppers, has been shown to have anti-cancer properties. Cancer cells treated with capsaicin showed a significant reduction in growth and inducement of cell death compared to cells in an untreated control group, according to a study in a 2013 journal, BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Capsaicin also shows potential as a topical treatment for arthritis, due to anti-inflammatory compounds. A study in the May 2014 issue of the journal Expert Opinion on Drug Delivery used the ghost pepper, known as the world’s hottest pepper, in such a formulation with positive results, suggesting its potential in the development of anti-arthritic medicine.
Vibrant, deep colors and smooth shiny skins indicate a fresh, quality chili pepper. Color is also important in choosing the most flavorful dried chili peppers. Fresh peppers store well in a paper bag in the refrigerator vegetable drawer where they should last at least a week. Keep dried peppers in a sealed container away from sunlight. Easy to grow at home, chili peppers bring color to the garden and kick up the flavor and spice in favorite dishes. Jalapenos, Anaheims or poblanos are classic additions to sautéed vegetables, omelets and Mexican cuisine, and in baked savory breads and biscuits.
Chili pepper, one (red, raw)
Vitamin A: 428 IU (9 percent DV)
Vitamin C: 65 mg (108 percent DV)
Vitamin K: 6 mcg (8 percent DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.2 mg (11 percent DV)
Environmental Nutrition is an independent newsletter written by nutrition experts. www.environmentalnutrition.com.