November is National Chili Pepper Month! Most people are well aware of the benefits of a whole foods diet. Eating foods in their natural state can provide a wide variety of quality nutrients and health benefits, but it can be challenging to try new foods and to know how to use them in a flavorful and tasty way. Never fear! Today we will take a moment to learn about some of the various kinds of chili peppers in the world, how peppers can help your health, as well as some tried and true tasty recipes to test them out in your own kitchen! Let’s get started!
Chili Peppers 101
Most people think of chili peppers for their culinary value
but their use goes well beyond that. Chili peppers are not only widely used as vegetables (though they are technically a berry) and spicy ingredients in foods, but they also have numerous applications across multiple industries including in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, as natural coloring agents, in defense repellents, and as ornamental and decorative plants. Chili peppers are among the most commonly consumed and cultivated vegetable worldwide with nearly 40K tons produced globally each year. (Liu et al., 2017)
Chili or pepper? All chilies from sweet bell peppers to super spicy Carolina Reapers belong to the Solanaceae (nightshade) family along with other familiar vegetables like potatoes, eggplant, and tomatoes. Although in the US the names “chili” and “pepper” are often used interchangeably, they are actually two very different and unrelated types of plants. A pepper is technically a member of the genus “Piper” while chilies are members of the genus “Capsicum.” The berries in plants of the Piper genus contain piperine, while those in the Capsicum genus contain the chemical capsaicin.
Capsaicin is one of over 20 identified capsacinoids identified that contribute to the characteristic heat found in chili peppers. (Barbero, Liazid, Azaroual, Palma, & Barroso, 2015) The heat level of any particular pepper is determined by a multifactorial process. The heat level is typically the result of two factors: the plant’s genetics and the interaction of the plant with the environment. (Bosland & Walker) The first test used to measure the heat in chili peppers is the Scoville test. This test uses human subjects to taste test a selected series of chili samples to determine the heat level of the sample. The samples are diluted in a serial manner until heat can no longer be detected by the tasters. A Scoville Heat Unit is equivalent to one unit of dilution. Measuring heat with this technique is still subjective and depends on the taster’s palate and sensitivity to the chemicals that are responsible for heat. (Bosland & Walker)
Scoville Scale Graphic (Hultquist & Hultquist, 2019)
Where do chili peppers come from? Where can I find them?
Chili peppers originated in the lowlands of Brazil as small red, round, “berry-like” fruits. This location is called the ‘nuclear area’ and has the greatest number of wild species of chili peppers in the world. (2020d) Birds are believed to be responsible for the spread of chili peppers across the Americas. Birds lack capsaicin receptors and are immune to the heat of chili peppers and the seeds pass through their digestive tract unharmed.
The spread of chili peppers into Europe and beyond is believed by some to be the result of Spanish conquistadors interacting with Native Americans. Christopher Columbus bumped into the New World in his famous search for a new spice trade route to the Orient. The Native people he encountered offered him some chili peppers and because the taste and heat reminded him of the peppers from Europe, he called them peppers- thus the modern confusion between peppers and chilis! (2020d) Columbus brought them back to Europe and they quickly spread across the Eastern hemisphere where they have become integral parts of many culinary traditions across country borders and cultures.
Today, peppers are highly cultivated crops grown worldwide. They have a robust growing season and many varieties are available year round. When selecting peppers, look for those that have a well-shaped, firm, shiny appearance. The skin of fresh peppers should be taught without wrinkles, cracks, or soft spots. The stems should be green and fresh. Remember that the majority of a pepper’s heat is found in the seeds and white inner membranes and that the heat a pepper has can vary even when harvested from the same plant. Capsaicinoids can irritate or burn your eyes or hands. The oils found in chilis 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. (2020b)
What nutrients do chili peppers contain?
Chili peppers are known to contain a wide variety of compounds that are beneficial to human health. In terms of phytonutrients (non-essential, but health promoting compounds found exclusively in plant foods), chili peppers contain anti-inflammatory capsaicinoids like capsaicin, homocapsaicin, and dihydrocapsaicin as well as potent antioxidant carotenoids like lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene. (2020c) They are also important sources of many vitamins and minerals though the specific concentrations of individual vitamins and minerals can vary from one variety of chili pepper to the next. For example the red bell pepper is an excellent source of vitamin C (even beating out well-known sources like oranges) and hot dried chili peppers are well known for their vitamin E content. (2020a, 2020b) In general, all chili peppers are great sources of B vitamins, fiber, and minerals like calcium, iron, manganese, copper, and molybdenum. (2020b) Chili peppers are also great sources of essential amino acids like tryptophan, lysine, and phenylalanine. (2020c)
In fact, because chili peppers are widely consumed and are considered to have such high nutritional content, they have been investigated as a tool to be utilized in alleviating human micronutrient dietary deficiencies. More than two billion individuals on the planet today have been estimated to be deficient in major minerals and vitamins, predominantly zinc, iodine, vitamin A, and iron primarily due to inadequate dietary intake. (Olatunji, T. L., Afolayan, A. J., 2018) The most sustainable and practicable approach to alleviate these deficiencies is by integrating foods that are micronutrient-rich into diets. Substantial biomedical research supports the idea that peppers are an economical plant food that contains an appreciable amount of essential micro- and macronutrients that are nutritionally valuable and that a pepper-rich diet in daily meals can be helpful in the continuing quest to alleviate micronutrient deficiency. (Olatunji, T. L., Afolayan, A. J., 2018)
What documented health benefits do chili peppers have?
- Pain Relief
- Anticancer Activity
- Liver Health
- Weight Management
- Cardiovascular Support
- Healthy Cholesterol Levels
Chili pepper recipes to try!
Egg Stuffed Poblano Peppers
Egg stuffed poblano pepper boats are a low-carb twist to the classic
egg in a basket.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
- 2 poblano peppers about 4 ounces each
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup extra-sharp cheddar cheese grated
- 4 large eggs
- ¼ teaspoon Kosher salt + extra for seasoning the finished peppers
- black pepper fresh cracked, to taste
- 2 tablespoons cilantro fresh (optional)
- Slice the poblano peppers in half lengthwise, as equally as possible with the stem intact. Remove the seeds and any flesh from the veins. Or for a spicy option- leave the seeds in!
- Pour the oil and water to a medium non-stick skillet (with a lid), over medium-high heat. Season the oil and water with about ¼ teaspoon of salt. Place the peppers into the pan cut side down. Cook covered with the lid, turning occasionally, until the peppers have softened, but still somewhat firm; about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and turn the peppers over cut side up if needed. Sprinkle two tablespoons of cheese inside each Break an egg into a small bowl and pour one egg into each pepper, and sprinkle the eggs with the remaining cheese (about 2 tablespoons each). Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Turn the heat back onto medium. Cover and cook, until the egg whites are set and the yolks are still runny; about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat. Transfer each pepper to a serving plate, sprinkle with fresh cilantro (if desired), and serve immediately.
Thank you to www.TheMountainKitchen.com for this fabulous recipe.
Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Gouda
- 6 red bell peppers (or two 13 oz jars roasted red peppers)
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups onions, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes (or 1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne – more or less, depending on your tolerance for heat)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 (16 oz) can tomatoes, undrained
- 1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
- 2 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock or water)
- 8 oz (~ 2 cups) Gouda cheese, shredded + additional for garnish
For Garnish (Optional)
- garlic croutons (toasted thin slices of bread, rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, and cut into squares)
- slivered fresh basil leaves
- Rub oil on peppers and char them over a gas flame or under the broiler until blackened on all sides.
- Put them in a paper bag and let them rest for 10-15 minutes before peeling, seeding, and slicing (**If using canned roasted peppers, rinse them well in a colander and set them aside to drain).
- Warm oil over medium heat in large stockpot. Add the onions and sauté for about 15 minutes, until the onions are very soft and translucent.
- Add the garlic a pinch of salt and sauté for another minute or so.
- Remove the pot from the heat and add the tomatoes, coconut milk, water, and the roasted red peppers.
- Purée soup with a hand Alternately, working in batches, use a conventional blender or food processor. I like a little chunk and texture to this soup particularly if the weather has a bit of a chill, but smooth or chunky, it’s up to you.
- Return it to the soup pot and cook on medium heat until hot.
- Add the cheese, and red pepper flakes (or cayenne pepper, if using), along with a bit more salt if needed – adjusting to your taste.
- Serve topped with croutons, cheese, and/or slivered basil.
Thank you to www.VeggiesByCandlelight.com and Hawthorn University graduate, Ali Rost for this amazing recipe.
Andrea Pryce, N.D., received her baccalaureate degree from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and is a 2006 graduate of Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona. Following completion of her N.D. degree she went into private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona. She has a strong background in biomedical research with significant experience in both bench top and field research. She has worked as a bench top research associate performing genetic oncology assays for a major biomedical research foundation. Additionally, she served as a project coordinator for a homeopathy study co-conducted by the Southwest College Research Institute and the University of Arizona’s Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. She maintains a research interest in the epigenetics and nutrigenomics particularly as they relate to oncology. In 2009, she moved to Florida and began working at Life Extension in Fort Lauderdale where she was Medical Editor for their monthly magazine. Dr. Pryce joined the faculty at Hawthorn University in April of 2014 and also serves on the faculty of Everglades University. She has recently joined the team at the Integrative Health Institute in Boca Raton, Florida.
Liu, F., Yu, H., Deng, Y., Zheng, J., Liu, M., Ou, L., . . . Zou, X. (2017). PepperHub, an Informatics Hub for the Chili Pepper Research Community. Molecular Plant, 10(8), 1129-1132. doi:10.1016/j.molp.2017.03.005
Barbero, G. F., Liazid, A., Azaroual, L., Palma, M., & Barroso, C. G. (2015). Capsaicinoid Contents in Peppers and Pepper-Related Spicy Foods. International Journal of Food Properties, 19(3), 485-493. doi:10.1080/10942912.2014.968468
Bosland, P. W., & Walker, S. J. (n.d.). Measuring Chile Pepper Heat. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/H237/
Hultquist, M., & Hultquist, P. (2019, June 18). The Scoville Scale. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from http://www.chilipeppermadness.com/frequently-asked-questions/the-scoville-scale/
World’s Healthiest Foods: Bell Peppers. (2020a). Retrieved October 28, 2020, from
World’s Healthiest Foods: Chili Peppers. (2020b). Retrieved October 28, 2020, from
Nutritional Information. (2020c). Retrieved October 30, 2020, from
Olatunji, T. L., Afolayan, A. J. (2018) The suitability of chili pepper ( Capsicum annuum L.) for alleviating human micronutrient dietary deficiencies: A review. Food Sci Nutr. 2018 Oct 8;6(8):2239-2251.
doi:10.1002/fsn3.790. eCollection 2018 Nov.
The Story of Chile Peppers. (2020d). Retrieved October 30, 2020, from