Chilli is the fruit of plants that belongs to the genus Capsicum, and is a member of the nightshade family, Solanaceae.
A perennial bushy plant, native to northern South America, Central America and the West Indies, cultivated all over the world, especially in warm countries, for its condiment fruit. Its stems bear broad, soft leaves and small white flowers similar to those of the potato, which bear fruits of various shapes, sizes and colours, but most often elongated and red when ripe. Most cultivated peppers relate to Capsicum frutescens - a perennial plant that grows over 2 metres, or Capsicum annuum - a smaller annual plant, but Capsicum chinense provides the hottest peppers.
Chillies were cultivated long before the arrival of Europeans and were used to spice up food and drink. The Mayans used them to fight infections.
It did not take long for the new condiment to be introduced to all warm regions of the world and become indispensable. The pepper entered England in 1548 and was first described by Carolus Clusius as siliquastrum. Thanks to this botanist, it did not take long to be cultivated in Hungary and Spain. It is from Hungarian peppers (or paprika) that vitamin C was first extracted in its crystallised state around 1930.
Vitamins and minerals
Chili peppers are rich in various vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin C - Chili peppers are very high in this powerful antioxidant, which is important for wound healing and immune function.
Vitamin B6 - plays a role in energy metabolism.
Vitamin K1 - also known as phylloquinone, vitamin K1 is essential for blood clotting and healthy bones and kidneys.
Potassium - An essential dietary mineral that serves a variety of functions, potassium may reduce your risk of heart disease when consumed in adequate amounts.
Copper - Often lacking in the Western diet, copper is an essential trace element, important for strong bones and healthy neurons.
Vitamin A - Red chili peppers are high in beta carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A.
Other plant compounds include:
Capsanthin - the main carotenoid in red chili peppers — up to 50% of the total carotenoid content — capsanthin is responsible for their red colour. Its powerful antioxidant properties may fight cancer.
Violaxanthin - the major carotenoid antioxidant in yellow chili peppers, violaxanthin accounts for 37–68% of the total carotenoid content.
Lutein - most abundant in green (immature) chili peppers, lutein’s levels decrease with maturation. High consumption of lutein is linked to improved eye health.
Capsaicin - one of the most studied plant compounds in chili peppers, capsaicin is responsible for their pungent (hot) flavour and many of their health effects.
Sinapic acid - also known as sinapinic acid, this antioxidant has a variety of potential health benefits.
Ferulic acid – Similar to sinapic acid, ferulic acid is an antioxidant that may help protect against various chronic diseases.
Benefits of chillis
Anti-inflammatory properties - Chilli peppers contain a substance called capsaicin, which gives peppers their characteristic pungency and produce anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
Cardiovascular benefits - Red chilli 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 and stroke.
Clear congestion - Capsaicin peppery heat stimulates secretions that help clear mucus from your stuffed up nose or congested lungs.
Boost immunity - The bright colour of red chilli peppers signals its high content of beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A. High in vitamin C and coupled with vitamin A, which is often called the anti-infection vitamin, these vitamins serve as the body’s first line of defence against invading pathogens.
Weight loss - with its thermogenic (heat production) properties and together with exercise, capsaicin could decrease fatty cells (adipogenensis) and regulate gene function related with lipid metabolism, and thus have the potential to help lose weight.