Have you ever wondered what makes hot peppers hot? Well, hot peppers
(as opposed to sweet peppers, like Bell) have an alkaline, oily
substance called capsaicin. Capsaicin, or
8-methyl-n-vanillyl-6-nonenamide, is soluble in cold water, which is
why drinking water to alleviate the burn won't work. Capsaicin is recognized in folk remedies as containing excellent
healing properties. It wasn't until recently, however, that serious
investigative research in the medical and pharmaceutical industries has
commenced to prove that chili peppers are good for us and help cure the
Furthermore, the American Diabetic Association has this to say:
Peppers provide a variety of flavors to enhance cooking. Great news: They may also be good for your health. Enhance the flavor of your food by incorporating peppers into your meals.
Adding hot peppers to chicken and fish improves the taste and limits the need for added fats or salt. Sweet peppers perk up salads, pasta, rice and meat, fish and poultry.
Peppers are also rich in phytochemicals that appear to provide anti-inflammatory benefits. Preliminary research shows capsaicin may act as a blood thinner. Hot peppers have the highest amount of capsaicin while sweet, green, red or yellow peppers have less. Whatever color you prefer, choose firm, shiny peppers for the best flavor.
Although many of the claims have not yet been fully understood by scientific research, these uses have been around for hundreds of years, and they seem to work for many people.
Nutritionally speaking, peppers are the right food for people seeking a healthy, nutritious diet since they are low in calories, high in Vitamins A and C, and high in important minerals such as potassium. Moreover, capsaicin also appears to increase your metabolic rate so you can burn more calories (an important finding for dieters).
Medically speaking, 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.
Its now being recognized as a natural pain reliever for treatment of osteoarthritis pain and headaches. 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.
Furthermore, research suggests that capsaicin can also help relieve cluster headaches. For centuries, herbalists have recommended rubbing red pepper into sore joints and muscles. This uses the pepper as a counter irritant, causing discomfort that distracts the person from the deeper, more severe pain.
For those who are concerned about cardiovascular problems, red chili peppers have been shown to work as anticoagulants, thus reducing 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.
Researchers in Thailand first noticed that people who consume large amounts of red chili peppers experienced a lower incidence of thrombo-embolism, or potentially dangerous blood clots. Scientists then looked at the medical records of countries where hot spicy foods were regularly consumed, and found that people who eat a diet high in red peppers experience a much lower incidence of blood clotting diseases.
As such, scientists have now concluded that capsicum does indeed possess fibrinolytic activity, meaning that it is able to break down blood clots. More than that, capsaicin not only reduces pain, but its peppery heat also stimulates secretions that help clear mucus from your stuffed up nose or congested lungs which make it an ideal solution for colds.
As scientific studies now show, chili peppers' bright red color signals a high content of beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A. Just two teaspoons of red chili peppers provide 5% of the daily value for vitamin C coupled with more than 13% 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.
In addition, chili peppers have a bad (and oft mistaken) reputation for contributing to stomach ulcers. Research now confirms that 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.
Continuing research into the effects of chili peppers has found that when you bite into a hot pepper, nerve receptors in your mouth let you know about it. It turns out that similar nerve receptors are present in the heart and may be responsible for the chest pain associated with a heart attack.
A study by researchers at the Penn State University College of Medicine demonstrated that a substance very like capsaicin stimulates receptors on the surface of the heart, telling you that you are having a heart attack. According to Hui-Lin Pan, Ph.D., the study's lead author "These findings might be very important in developing drugs for patients with chronic heart pain that is not relieved by traditional treatments".
Chili peppers can also act as an alternative method for curing depression. When ingested, capsaicinoids bind to receptors in the lining of your mouth, nose and stomach. These pain receptors are called trigeminal cells and release substance P when triggered. Substance P is a neuropeptide chemical messenger that tells the brain about pain or skin inflammation.
The brain responds by releasing endorphins which ultimately give you a feeling of happiness and well being. Repeated consumption of capsaicinoids depletes the nerves of substance P. This is the reason why people can eventually build up a tolerance to capsaicinoids and can eat increasingly hotter foods. Many people become addicted to eating hot peppers because they enjoy the release of endorphins so much.
Although, of all the scientific research, the more controversial findings claim that scientists believe there may be a role for capsaicin in treating skin cancer. The Sept 4, 2002, issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported that capsaicin may force skin cancer cells to self-destruct by starving them of oxygen.
After applying capsaicin and a related compound to human skin cancer cells, most of the skin cancer cells died. If more research confirms these findings, the compounds may be used in creams or skin patches to prevent or treat skin cancers.
Interestingly enough, as chili peppers are now considered a major condiment across many continents, and as more scientific research abounds, more benefits and uses inherently known to our ancestors becomes fact.
When choosing fresh chili peppers, choose ones that have vivid, deep colors and glossy, firm and taut skins. Their stems should seem hardy and fresh. With the exception of jalapeos, peppers should not have any cracks near the stem end. Avoid those that are wrinkled or have soft areas or black spots. When purchasing dried chili peppers look for ones that are still vivid in color. If they've lost their color, they've probably lost their flavor as well.
Place unwashed fresh peppers in paper bags or wrap in paper towels and store in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator, where they should keep for at least one week. Avoid storing peppers in plastic bags as this may result in moisture accumulation, which will cause them to spoil more quickly. Fresh peppers can also be hung in the sunlight to dry. Once dried, they can be used to make freshly ground chili powder. Dried peppers and chili powders should be kept in a tightly sealed jar, away from sunlight.
A final note, if you're worried about scorching your mouth, its said that immediate consumption of dairy products like milk, sour cream or ice cream tends to absorb the heat. The more fat in the product the better (starch products are also good absorbers).Tip : Be very careful when you are handling and cooking fresh chili peppers. The 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. Also, you should wash your knife and cutting board after cutting these peppers.