Spice, aromatic vegetable product used as a flavoring or condiment. The term was formerly applied also to pungent or aromatic foods (e.g., gingerbread and currants), to ingredients of incense or perfume (e.g., myrrh), and to embalming agents. Modern usage tends to limit the term to flavorings used in food or drinks, although many spices have additional commercial uses, e.g., as ingredients of medicines, perfumes, incense, and soaps.
Spices include stimulating condiments, e.g., pepper, mustard, and horseradish; aromatic spices, e.g., cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and mace; and sweet herbs, e.g., thyme, marjoram, sage, and mint. Spices are taken from the part of the plant richest in flavor—bark, stem, flower bud, fruit, seed, or leaf. Although spices are very commonly used in the form of a powder, some are used as tinctures obtained by extracting essential oils, and many are used whole.
Garlic, chives, caraway, mustard, and many herbs grow in temperate regions, and vanilla, allspice, and red pepper are indigenous to the West Indies and South America. Most of the major spices, however, are produced in the East Indies and tropical Asia.
THE SPICE TRADE
Spices from India, E Asia, and the East Indies were in demand from ancient times; they were carried by caravan across China and India to ports of the Mediterranean Sea or the Persian Gulf and thence to the marketplaces of Athens, Rome, and other cities, where they were sold at exorbitant prices. Certain spices were used as media of exchange; Alaric I is said to have demanded pepper as part of the ransom for raising the siege of Rome in 408. In the early Middle Ages few spices reached the markets of Europe, but trade was slowly resumed in the 9th cent. and was later greatly stimulated by the Crusades. In Western Europe the desire for spices arose in part from the monotony of the diet and from poor facilities for the preservation of food, especially of meat.
When overland trade routes from Asia were cut off by the Mongols and Turks, the European demand for spices was a major factor in motivating a search for new trade routes around Africa and across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The high price obtainable for spices was partially responsible for the bitter rivalry of European powers for the control of spice-producing areas and of trade routes. Even after adequate supplies of spices were found and means of transportation made available, the cost long remained very high in Europe and in America. This was largely because of the expenses incident to attempts to retain monopoly of markets and to deliberately limit crops in order to secure high prices.
Although spices today are still important in trade, their per capita use for flavoring food has declined in Western civilizations, and certain spices must compete with synthetic flavorings. The demand for spices has remained large in Asia, where spices have a wider social and ceremonial significance than they ever attained in the West.
HEALTHY SPICES NUTRITION FACTS
Spice up your taste buds with healthy spices in your diet!
Spices not only just excite your taste buds but are composed of an impressive list of phyto-nutrients, essential oils, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that are essential for overall wellness. Spices have been integral part part of our food since centuries, and today, even become more relevent for us. Thanks to the Arab and European explorers, whose contributions in spreading them from their place of origin to the rest of the planet has immensely broaden their use and popularity all over the world!
List of healthy spices along with illustration of their nutrition facts and health benefits:
- Anise seed
- Bay leaf
- Black pepper
- Cayenne pepper
- Chili peppers
Allspice, also known popularly as Jamaican pepper or pimento, is one of the widely used spice in the Mexican and other Central American cuisines. This spice corn actually is a dried “unripe” fruit obtained from an evergreen tropical shrub belonging to the Myrtaceae family, in the genus: pimento. Scientific name: Pimenta dioica.
The pimento tree is native to tropical evergreen rain forest of Central American region and Caribbean islands. Generally, the plant starts bearing fruits after about five years of implantation.
Unripe green berries, generally, picked up from the tree when they reach full size. The corns are then subjected to dry under sunlight thoroughly. Thus shriveled berries which appear similar to that of brown peppercorns, measure about 6 mm in diameter but contain two seeds unlike peppercorns, which have only one centrally placed seed.
Ground allspice has strong spicy taste and aroma that closely resemble a mixture of black-pepper, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF ALLSPICE
- Certain active principles in allspice have been found to have anti-inflammatory, rubefacient (warming and soothing), carminative, and anti-flatulent properties.
- Allspice corns contains health benefiting essential oils such as eugenol, a phenylpropanoids class of chemical compound, which gives pleasant, sweet aromatic fragrances to this spice. It also contains caryophyllene, methyleugenol, glycosides, tannins, quercetin, resin, and sesquiterpenes. At the processing units, these volatile essential oils are obtained through distillation process using this spice corn. The outer coat of the allspice-berries is believed to have the greatest concentration of some of the compounds of medicinal activities.
- As in black peppercorns, the active principles in the allspice may increase the motility of the gastro-intestinal tract in addition to aid in digestion through facilitating enzyme secretions inside the stomach and intestines.
- Eugenol, has local anesthetic and antiseptic properties. It found useful in gum and dental treatment procedures. Recent research studies have shown that the preparation made from allspice oil mixed with extractions from garlic, and oregano can work against E.coli, Salmonella and L.monocytogenes infections.
- The spice is enriched with good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, copper, selenium, and magnesium. Iron is an important co-factor for cytochrome-oxidase enzymes during cellular metabolism. It is also required for red blood cell production inside the bone marrow. Being an important component of cell and body fluids, potassium helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is utilized inside the human body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
- Further, this spice also carries a very good amount of vitamin A, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), riboflavin, niacin and vitamin-C. Vitamin C is a powerful natural antioxidant; regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals.
- ANISE SEED
Do you suffer from gripping stomach pain? Or with cold and cough?
Take a few sips of anise seed mixed in hot-water and you feel better instantly. These unique aromatic spicy seeds indeed are quite popular for their culinary and medicinal values.
Anise botanically belongs to the Apiaceae family in the genus Pimpinella and known scientifically as Pimpinella anisum. The humble anise plant is native to Middle-East and Mediterranean region; probably originated on the fertile plains of Nile delta in the Egypt.
Anise is a perennial herbal plant; generally, grows up to a height of about 2 feet. It bears white colored umbelliform flowers by July, and harvested by bringing down the whole plant once its seed-heads matured enough on the plant itself. Its seeds then separated from the flower heads by threshing.
Anise seeds feature oblong or curved, comma shape, about 3-4 mm long, light brown color and fine stripes over its outer surface.
The seeds feature delicately sweet and aromatic bouquet with a distinctive liquorice flavor. Their special fragrance is due to essential oil, anethole in them.
Star anise (Illicium verum) is a spicy fruit, obtained from evergreen tree native to South-West China. It has similar flavor and taste like that of anise seed. Star-anise tree bears star-shaped fruits which turn rust-red color when ripen. Interiorly, these fruits envelope amber-colored seeds. Both the seed as well as fruit husks used as spice in cooking.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF ANISE
- Exotic anise spice carry some of the important plants derived chemical compounds that are known to have been anti-oxidant, disease preventing, and health promoting properties.
- the main essential volatile oil that gives the characteristic sweet, aromatic flavor to anise seed is anethole. Other important compounds found in these seeds include estragol, p-anisaldehyde, anise alcohol, acetophenone, pinene and limonene.
- Anise seed oil obtained from extraction of the seeds has been found application in many traditional medicines as stomachic, anti-septic, anti-spasmodic, carminative, digestive, expectorant, stimulant and tonic agent.
- The seeds are an excellent source of many essential B-complex vitamins such as pyridoxine, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin. Pyridoxine (vitamin B-6) helps increase GABA neuro-chemical levels in the brain.
- The spicy seeds are one of important source of minerals like calcium, iron, copper, potassium, manganese, zinc and magnesium. 100 g dry seeds contain 36.96 mg or 462% daily required levels of iron. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure.
- Copper is a cofactor for many vital enzymes, including cytochrome C-oxidase and superoxide dismutase (other minerals function as cofactors for this enzyme are manganese and zinc). Copper is also required in the production of red blood cells.
- The spice also contains good amounts of anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin-C and vitamin-A.
- BAY LEAF
Pleasantly aromatic bay leaf or bay-laurel is one of the well-recognized culinary leaf-spices in use since the earliest times. In the legends, bay laurel is deemed as the tree of the Sun god, under the celestial sign of Leo.
Botanically, bay tree belongs to the family of Lauraceae, in the genus; Laurus. It is thought to have originated in Asia Minor region, from where it distributed to all over the Mediterranean region and other parts of Asia.
Scientific name: Laurus nobilis.
Bay laurel is a tall, conical, evergreen tree growing up to 30 feet in height. Yellow or greenish white, star-shaped flowers appear in clusters during early spring, which subsequently produce dark-green to purplish, single seeded berry. Its thick and leathery leaves feature elliptic shape, shiny, dark-green and measure about 3-4 inches in length.
Bay leaves give off a pleasing and sweet aroma when added to the recipes. Wilted and dried leaves indeed are strongly aromatic and can be stored for months. Its dried fruit (berries) can also be employed as a flavoring agent in the cuisines.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF BAY LEAF
- Bay leaf was highly praised by the Greeks and the Romans, who deeply believed that the herb symbolizes wisdom, peace, and protection.
- The spice contains many notable plants derived compounds, minerals and vitamins that are essential for optimum health.
- This spice has many volatile active components such as a-pinene, ß-pinene, myrcene, limonene, linalool, methyl chavicol, neral, a-terpineol, geranyl acetate, eugenol, and chavicol. These compounds are known to have been antiseptic, anti-oxidant, digestive, and thought to have anti-cancer properties.
- Fresh leaves are very rich source of vitamin-C; provide 46.5 mg or 77.5% of RDA per 100 g. Vitamin-C (ascorbic acid) is one of the powerful natural anti-oxidant that help remove harmful free radicals from the body. Ascorbic acid also has immune booster, wound healing and anti-viral effects.
- Furthermore, its fresh leaves and herb parts are very good in folic acid; contain about 180 mg or 45% of daily-recommended values per 100 g. Folates are important in DNA synthesis and when given during the peri-conception period, they can help prevent neural tube defects in the baby.
- Bay leaves are an excellent source of vitamin A; contain 6185 IU or 206% of recommended daily levels per 100 g. Vitamin A is a natural antioxidant and is essential for healthy visual sight. It is also required for maintaining mucusa and skin health. Consumption of natural foods rich in vitamin A has been found to help to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
- The spice is indeed a very good source of many vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid and riboflavin. These B-complex groups of vitamins help in enzyme synthesis, nervous system function, and regulating body metabolism.
- This noble spice is a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese and copper are used by the body as co-factors for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is essential for red blood cell production and as a co-factor for cytochrome-oxidase enzymes.
- BLACK PEPPER
Often referred as “king of spice”, black pepper is incredibly popular spice since ancient times. Peppercorn is native to the tropical evergreen rain forest of South Indian state, Kerala, from where it spread to rest of the world through Indian and Arab traders. Pepper fruit, also known as the peppercorn, is actually a berry obtained from pepper plant.
Botanically, peppercorn belongs to the family of Piperaceae, in the genus of piper and known scientifically as Piper nigrum. It is a perennial vine and climber that requires supporting trellies (tree or pole) to grow in height; thus it has similar growth characteristics as that of beetle leaf plant. The pepper plant begins producing small round berries after about three to four years of plantation. Technically, the pepper berry is a friuit (drupe), measuring about 5-6 mm in diameter, enclosing a single large seed at its center.
Commercial peppercorns available in the markets may vary in colors. However, all kinds of peppercorns are nothing but the same pepper fruit which picked up from the plant at different stages of maturity and subjected to different methods of processing. In general, peppercorns harvested while half-mature and just about to turn red. They are then left to dry under the sunlight until they dry, shrivel and turn black (black peppercorns). Alternatively, green peppercorns picked while the berries still unripe and green. The white peppercorn got its name when a completely ripe berry soaked in the brine in order to remove its dark, outer skin, exposing inner white-color pepper seed.
Black peppers have a strong pungent flavor that comes from volatile-oils, such as piperine. In case of milled-peppers, these volatile oils may disappear because of evaporation.
Cubeb or tailed pepper berries are dried, unripe fruits of the Piper cubeba vine that grows mainly in the Indonesian rain forest. They appear similar to black peppercorns but have a characteristic stalk which is often interpreted as a “tail.” Cubeb berries have a distinctive flavor because of monoterpene essential oil, cubebene.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF BLACK PEPPER
- Peppercorns contain an impressive list of plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties. Black peppers have been in use since centuries for their anti-inflammatory, carminative, anti-flatulent properties.
- Peppercorns composed of health benefiting essential oils such as piperine, an amine alkaloid, which gives strong spicy pungent character. They also carry numerous monoterpenes hydrocarbons such as sabinene, pinene, terpenene, limonene, mercene, etc., which altogether gives aromatic property to the pepper.
- The above-mentioned active principles in the peppercorns may increase gut motility as well as the digestion power through augmenting gastro-intestinal enzyme secretions. It has also been found that piperine can increase absorption of selenium, B-complex vitamins, beta-carotene, as well as other nutrients from the food.
- Black peppercorns contain a good amount of minerals like potassium, calcium, zinc, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is essential for cellular respiration and blood cell production.
- They are also an excellent source of many vital B-complex groups of vitamins such as Pyridoxine, riboflavin, thiamin and niacin.
- Peppercorns are a good source of many anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin-C and vitamin-A. They are also rich in flavonoid polyphenolic anti-oxidants like carotenes, cryptoxanthin, zea-xanthin and lycopene. These compounds help the body remove harmful free radicals and help protect from cancers and diseases.
Unique, piquant flavored capers are flowering buds of a low-growing caper shrub. The buds, indeed, are one of the most desired ingredients in the kitchens all around the Mediterranean basin. The buds botanically belong to the family of Capparaceae, in the genus: Capparis. Scientific name: Capparis spinosa.
The plant is a spiny, trailing, deciduous shrub native to the Mediterranean. It prefers warm humid climate and grows in abundance all over the Cyprus, Italy, Greece, North African and some Asia Minor regions. The shrub begins producing flower (caper) buds from third year of plantation.
In general, their small cream colored buds are gathered by handpicking in the early morning hours of the day, which otherwise would unfold into a beautiful whitish-pink four sepal flower with long tassels of purple stamens. Soon after harvesting, the buds are washed and allowed to wilt for few hours in the sun before putting them into jars and covered with salt, vinegar, brine, or olive oil.
In commercial practice, capers are categorized and sold by their size in the markets. Smaller sized buds fetch more value than large ones. Non-pareil and surfines are some of small buds, while capucines, capotes and grusas are sold as big size category capers.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF CAPERS
- Being flower buds, capers are in fact very low in calories, 23 calories per 100 g. However, this spice-bud contains many phytonutrients, anti-oxidants and vitamins essential for optimum health.
- Capers are one of the plant sources high in flavonoid compounds rutin (or rutoside) and quercetin. Capers are in-fact very rich source of quarcetin (180 mg/100 g) second only to tea leaf. Both of these compounds work as powerful anti-oxidants. Research studies suggest that quercetin has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Furthermore, rutin strengthen capillaries and inhibits platelet clump formation in the blood vessels. Both these actions of rutin help in smooth circulation of blood in very small vessels. Rutin has found application in some in trial treatments for hemorrhoids, varicose veins and in bleeding conditions such as hemophilia. It also found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels in obese individuals
- The spicy buds contain healthy levels of vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin K, niacin, and riboflavin. Niacin helps lower LDL cholesterol.
- Furthermore, minerals like calcium, iron, and copper are present in them. High sodium levels are because of added granular sea salt (sodium chloride).
- CARAWAY SEED
In the traditional Europian cuisine, caraway seed is one of the dominant spices featuring in several savory dishes. Strongly aromatic, caraway is a member in the parsley or Umbelliferae family; a large family of plants that also includes commonly known herbs and spices such as dill, anise,fennel, cumin, etc.
Scientific name of caraway is, Carum carvi.
Caraway grows extensively all over the Europe, North Africa, and Asia Minor regions. It is biennial, herbaceous plant which blooms once in every two years to creamy flowers appearing in umbels. It grows to about two feet in height and bears small feathery leaves. Caraway seeds, having similar in appearance as that of cumin, are crescent in shape, dark brown, with up to five stripes (ribs) running lengthwise on their surface.
Caraway generally harvested during early hours of the day to avoid spilliing of its seeds in th field. They are then staked in bundles and left to dry under sunlight. The seeds extracted by threshing, either mannually or using machines.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF CARAWAY SEEDS
- In addition to their utility in traditional medicines, caraway seeds have their own food value, and indeed, have several health benefiting nutrients, minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants.
- Caraway seeds are rich source of dietary fiber. 100 g seeds provide 38 g of fiber, 100% of daily recommended intake of fiber. Soluble as well as insoluble dietary fiber increase bulk of the food and help prevent constipation by speeding up its movement through the gut. In fact, gastro-intestinal transit time of food is greatly decreased.
- Fiber also binds to toxins in the food and helps protect the colon mucusa from cancers. Further, dietary fibers bind to bile salts (produced from cholesterol) and decrease their re-absorption in colon, and thus help in reducing serum LDL cholesterol levels.
- Caraway contains several health benefiting essential oils. Principle volatile compounds are carvone, limonene, carveol, pinen, cumuninic aldehyde, furfurol, and thujone. These active principles in the caraway seeds known to have antioxidant, digestive, carminative, and anti-flatulent properties.
- Caraway has several health benefiting flavonoid antioxidnats such as lutein, carotene, crypto-xanthin and zea-xanthin. These compounds are indeed work as powerful anti-oxidants by removing harmful free radicals from the body and thus protect from cancers, infection, aging and degenerative neurological diseases.
- Caraway spice is an excellent source of minerals like iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, selenium, zinc and magnesium. Copper required for the production of red blood cells. Iron required for red blood cell formation. Zinc is a co-factor in many enzymes that regulate growth and development, sperm generation, digestion and nucleic acid synthesis. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese used by the body as a co-factor for the powerful anti-oxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
- The caraway seeds indeed are the storehouse for many vital vitamins. Vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C as well as many B-complex vitamins like thiamin, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and niacin particularly concentrated in the seeds.
- CAYENNE PEPPER
Fiercely hot and pungent cayenne pepper is one of the widely used spicy ingredients in many cuisines. Cayenne fruits are slender, elongated pods obtained from capsicum family plant.
Cayenne variety of chili pepper plant is native to the Central American region where it was used as a spicy ingredient in Mexican cuisines for several thousand years. This spicy pod was introduced to the rest of the world, especially in the Indian subcontinent, by Spanish and Portuguese explorers during 16th and 17th centuries. They are now one of the important commercial crops in India, Pakistan, China, Argentina and USA.
Botanically, cayenne plant belongs to the nightshade family of Solanaceae, in the genus; capsicum. Scientific name: Capsicum annuum var. annuum.
Cayenne pepper is a perennial small shrub, reaching about 90-100 cm in height. It prefers well drained sandy soil and warm climate. Its woody stem with numerous branches is covered with thick dark-green foliage. Small creamy-white flowers appear all over the bush which subsequently develop into long, slender, glossy bright green color fruits (pods). The fruits finally attain mature status when they turn deep-red color.
Interiorly, each cayenne fruit features numerous tiny, flat, disk-shaped, off-white or cream colored seeds. The seeds are actually clinging on to central white placenta.
In general, the cayenne chili peppers are allowed to ripen completely in the plant itself and hand picked upon reaching maturity and turned red. They are then left to dry, which causes them to shrivel.
Cayenne chilies have a strong spicy taste that comes to them from the active alkaloid compounds’ capsaicin, capsanthin and capsorubin. The hotness of cayenne is measured in “Scoville heat units” (SHU). On the Scoville scale, cayenne pepper has 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. On comparison scale, bell peppers have “zero” SHU.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF CAYENNE PEPPERS
- Although inherently hot and intolerable even in small amounts, cayennes are one of the health-benefiting spice items packed with minerals, vitamins and certain phyto-nutrients. It is no wonder this wonderful spice has been found a place in modern as well as in traditional medicines for its disease preventing and health promoting properties.
- Cayenne contains health benefiting alkaloid compound, capsaicin which gives them strong spicy pungent character. Early laboratory studies on experimental mammals suggest that capsaicin has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties. When used judiciously it also found to reduce triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels in obese individuals.
- Fresh cayenne peppers, red or green, are rich source of vitamin-C. 100 g fresh chilies provide about 76.4 mg or about 127% of RDA of this vitamin. Vitamin-C is a potent water soluble antioxidant. It is required for the collagen synthesis in the body. Collagen is one of the main structural protein inside the body required for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs, and bones. Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body protect from scurvy; develop resistance against infectious agents (boosts immunity) and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.
- Cayenne chili peppers are perhaps the richest source of vitamin A among spices. Just 100 g of cayenne has 41,610 IU or astoundingly 1387% of vitamin A. Additionally, this prized spice is also home for anti-oxidant flavonoids such as carotenes, lutein, zea xanthin and cryptoxanthin. Together, these antioxidants in cayenne help to protect the body from injurious effects of free radicals generated during stress, and disease conditions.
- The spice contains very high levels of essential minerals. Even if consumed in small quantities regularly would provide sufficient levels of iron, copper, zinc, potassium, manganese, magnesium and selenium. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Selenium is an anti-oxidant trace element required by the human body for smooth heart and liver functions.
- 100 g of cayenne peppers provides 2014 mg or 47% of a daily-required amount of potassium. Potassium is an important electrolyte in the cells and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. It thus, counters the bad effects of sodium.
- Cayenne peppers are also good in B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin and thiamin (vitamin B-1). These vitamins are essential in the sense that body requires them from external sources to replenish. B-complex vitamins facilitate cellular metabolism through various enzymatic functions.
Cayenne peppers have amazingly very high levels of vitamins and minerals. Just 100 g provides (in % of Recommended daily allowance):
- 127% of vitamin-C (Ascorbic acid),
- 39% of vitamin B-6 (Pyridoxine),
- 54% of niacin,
- 71% of riboflavin,
- 1387% of vitamin A,
- 5% of iron,
- 41% of copper,
- 43% of potassium,
but no cholesterol.
- CHILI PEPPERS
Chili peppers, despite their fiery hotness, are one of very popular spices known for their medicinal and health benefiting properties. The chili, actually, is a fruit pod from the plant belonging to the nightshade family (Solanaceae), within the genus, capsicum.
Scientific name: Capsicum annum. Some of other common members in the Solanaceae family are tomato, aubergine, potato, etc.
Chili plant is a small, perennial shrub with woody stem, growing up to a meter in height. It is native to Central American region where it employed as one the chief spice ingredients in Mexican cuisine for centuries. Later, it was introduced to the rest of the world by Spanish and Portuguese explorers during the 16th and 17th centuries. Today chili pepper is grown widely in many parts of the world as an important commercial crop.
Several cultivars of chili peppers grown all around the world. Depending upon cultivar type, it bears flowers which subsequently develop into fruit pods of variable size, shape, color, and pungency. And again, depending on the cultivar type, their hotness ranges from mild, fleshy (Mexican bell peppers) to fiery, tiny, Nag Jalokiya chili peppers of Indian subcontinent. The hotness of chili is measured in “Scoville heat units” (SHU). On the Scoville scale, a sweet bell pepper scores 0, a jalapeño pepper around 2,500-4,000 units, and a Mexican habañeros may have 200,000 to 500,000 units.
Inside, each chili fruit pod features numerous tiny, white, or cream colored, circular, flat seeds which clinging on to the central white-placenta.
To harvest, chilies can be picked up while they are green, or when they reach complete maturity and dry on the plant itself. In general, the fruits are ready for harvesting once they mature and turn red. They are then left to dry under sunlight and srink in size.
Chilies have a strong spicy taste that comes to them from the active alkaloid compounds: capsaicin, capsanthin and capsorubin.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF CHILI PEPPERS
- Chili pepper contains an impressive list of plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties.
- Chilies contain health benefiting an alkaloid compound in them, capsaicin, which gives them strong spicy pungent character. Early laboratory studies on experimental mammals suggest that capsaicin has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties. It also found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels in obese individuals.
- Fresh chili peppers, red and green, are rich source of vitamin-C. 100 g fresh chilies provide about 143.7 µg or about 240% of RDA. Vitamin C is a potent water-soluble antioxidant. It is required for the collagen synthesis inside the human body. Collagen is one of the main structural protein required for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs, and bones. Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps protect from scurvy, develop resistance against infectious agents (boosts immunity), and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.
- They are also good in other antioxidants such as vitamin-A, and flavonoids like ß-carotene, a-carotene, lutein, zea-xanthin, and cryptoxanthin. These antioxidant substances in capsicum help protect the body from injurious effects of free radicals generated during stress, diseases conditions.
- Chilies carry a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
- Chilies are also good in B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin and thiamin (vitamin B-1). These vitamins are essential in the sense that human body requires them from external sources to replenish.
Chili peppers have amazingly high levels of vitamins and minerals. Just 100 g provides (in % of recommended daily allowance):
- 240% of vitamin-C (Ascorbic acid),
- 39% of vitamin B-6 (Pyridoxine),
- 32% of vitamin A,
- 13% of iron,
- 14% of copper,
- 7% of potassium,
but no cholesterol.