Chili pepper is a spice obtained from the berry of some spicy varieties of the Capsicum genus, and used mainly as a condiment.
Origins and History –
The chili pepper, whose scientific term comes from the Latin “Capsicum”, in turn derived from “capsa”, which means box, referring to the shape of the fruit (a berry) that resembles a box with seeds inside. according to some, the name derives from the Greek “Kapto” which means to bite, with evident reference to the spicy sensation that bites the tongue when eating.
However, according to some testimonies of archaeological finds, it is certain that already in 5500 BC, the chili pepper was known in the area of present-day Mexico. As with many other products of the earth, man approached chilli pepper and discovered two properties:
– as a food preservative;
– as a therapeutic product, which made digesting better, it helped to overcome cold diseases, and was useful against rheumatic pains.
Subsequently, the use of spicy chillies, due to their ability to red-hot the mouth and therefore to give flavor to tasteless foods, became important as ingredients for flavoring the dishes.
The chili pepper arrived in Europe at the end of the 15th century thanks to C. Colombo who took it with his second trip. As soon as it was introduced it had an immediate success thanks to its easy acclimatization, becoming a “popular” and “fiery spice” aroma with which to replace expensive spices such as pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg.
The hot pepper, called in the Americas “chili” was renamed by the Westerners “hot pepper” for the taste that resembled that of pepper.
For the pre-Columbian peoples the chili pepper had aphrodisiac properties as it was able to set fire to the mouth and therefore inflame the passion. In this regard, it seems that the emperor Montezuma spent the days surrounded by his concubines consuming abundant quantities both in the food and in the chocolate drink. D’Annunzio the great poet, lover of poetry and beautiful women also mentions it in a poem (Ode al diavolicchio).
At the end of the 1500s the Jesuit José de Acosta, in his natural and moral history of the West Indies, reports that the chilli “has deplorable effects, because it is very hot, volatile and penetrating in nature and its repeated use is detrimental to the health of the bodies. of young people and even more to their soul, as it incites sensuality ”.
Furthermore, for its numerous therapeutic qualities, for some of its colors (red) and shapes (croissant), the pepper has always been attributed to superstitious functions. In the peasant tradition a necklace of chillies was hung around the house in order to keep negative spirits away. On some families, on the wedding day there was the use of giving parents to future spouses a chain of chillies as a symbol of mutual aid that would be guaranteed against the adversities of life.
The cultivation of chilli is mainly used in the gardens of some southern regions such as Calabria, Puglia, Basilicata, Abruzzo and Marche.
Obviously the number of chilli varieties is several hundred, combinable according to the degree of spiciness that is measured empirically through the Scoville scale (degrees from 0 to 10), which indicates the presence of a chemical component capable of stimulating heat receptors located on the tongue:
– high grade with meat;
– medium grade with pasta
– low grade but aromatic with fish and sweets.
The red chilli pepper is an annual plant belonging to the Solanaceae family, originally from the American continent, with erect stem, white flowers and oblong-shaped fruits that in the ripening phase change from green to yellow to bright red. The peculiarity of the fruit is the spiciness on the palate, a characteristic that is conferred on it by capsaicin, an alkaloid present inside it in varying concentrations depending on the species considered.
Examples of hot peppers are:
– for the Capsicum annuum species: cayenne pepper, jalapeño, serrano, thai, Calabrian pepper;
– for the Capsicum chinense species: the habanero, the Carolina reaper, the bhut jolokia;
– for the Capsicum frutescens species: tabasco.
Active principles –
The nutritional values of the chili can vary according to the different varieties; the following values are the average between the values of a generic “red pepper” and a “green”, per 100 g of food:
– Carbohydrates 8.8-9.5 g;
– Proteins 1.9-2.0 g;
– Fat 0.2-0.4 g;
– Cholesterol 0 mg;
– Dietary fiber 34.8 g;
– Sodium 1640 mg;
– Energy value 40 kcal (167 kJ).
The fruit also contains vitamins (C, E, K, B, A), mineral salts including calcium, copper and potassium, carotenoids, bioflavonoids and lecithin. In particular, the chili pepper is rich in vitamin C: 100 grams of this spicy fruit contain 229 milligrams of it compared to 50 for orange.
The aforementioned values are however highly variable depending on the variety, the form of farming, the type of soil and the quantity and quality of water adopted for irrigation.
However, the component that gives the pepper spiciness is capsaicin (also called capsicin or capseicin); a chemical compound present, in different concentrations. Together with dihydrocapsaicin, it is one of the alkaloids responsible for most of the “spiciness” of chilies, to which are added the other, less spicy capsaicinoids.
Capsaicin, which in the IUPAC nomenclature is: (E) -N- (4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzyl) -8-methylnon-6-enamide, has brute or molecular formula: C18H27NO3 and molecular mass of 305.41 g / mol .
Properties and Uses –
As said, the most characteristic component of chillies is capsaicin.
This compound is produced by glands located between the fruit wall and the placenta (the tissue that supports the seeds). It is above all the latter that is rich in capsaicin, while the seeds, contrary to popular opinion, are covered with capsaicinoids on the surface but are internally free of them. Capsaicin and capsaicinoids are incredibly stable alkaloids: they remain unchanged for a long time, even after cooking and freezing.
On a therapeutic level, chilli has a primary function of promoting the secretion of gastric juices and facilitating digestion. The chili pepper improves circulation and is an excellent cardioprotective; it also has anti-cholesterol vasodilator properties. Allows capillaries to remain elastic and improves blood oxygenation. These functions are due to the unsaturated fatty acids present in the seed, which strengthen the blood vessels. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, chilli is very suitable for coughs or hoarseness. By purifying the blood, it relieves rheumatic pain: the ideal is to macerate it in alcohol and then apply it on the painful part, so as to alleviate the ailment.
It was precisely by studying the effects of hot peppers that the Hungarian scholar Szent Gyorgyi discovered the importance of the vitamin C contained in this fruit.
So fundamental that for this discovery he was awarded the Nobel Prize. Vitamin C defends against infections, all cooling diseases and cardiovascular disorders. Several scientific studies confirm that vitamin C and vitamin E, also present in chili peppers, strengthen the defenses against cancer. It is thanks to vitamin E that chilli has earned the title of powerful aphrodisiac: vitamin E is in fact the so-called vitamin of fertility and sexual potency. Recent studies have shown that chili peppers have an antihistamine action and could be used to treat allergy and asthma.
As for capsaicin, in addition to giving the characteristic spicy taste, it is a rubefacient substance, that is, capable of stimulating and increasing blood flow. The typical spicy flavor makes chili pepper an ideal spice in the kitchen for seasoning and flavoring many recipes. But being very rich in active ingredients, chilli can also be used in topical preparations to counteract arthritis and muscle pain.
If you want to schematize, the main benefits of chili are as follows:
– improves blood circulation;
– promotes intestinal motility;
– reduces blood cholesterol:
– it is antioxidant;
– prevents infections;
– is expectorant;
– stimulates the vitality of the tissues;
– activates the metabolism;
– it is antibacterial;
– it is antihistamine;
moreover, for topical use, in the form of a cream, it relieves bone, muscle and arthritic pains.
Among the contraindications of chilli pepper, it should be remembered that, in view of the numerous healthy properties, consumption and in any case excessive use can be irritating to the gastric mucosa. Therefore, its use is not recommended in case of:
Children under 12 as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women should limit their consumption.
There are more than 3 thousand varieties of hot peppers, each with a different degree of spiciness. To measure its specific level, as mentioned, an empirical value scale is used, the so-called Scoville scale, named after the chemist who created it.
This scale is from 0 to 10 degrees. The Scoville units (SU) instead measure the amount of capsaicin present inside the fruit and are calculated on a scale ranging from 0, the value of sweet pepper, to 16 million of pure capsaicin.
To give an idea of the degree of spiciness, consider that the common chillies have a value of about 5 thousand units, the cayenne pepper has 50,000 SU, while the Habanero, considered until 2006 the most spicy chilli in the world, has almost 600 thousand.
The spicy flavor of chilli is given by the action of capsaicin on the receptors of the tongue, causing a burning sensation similar to that which occurs when you ingest a very hot food. Except that the sensation given by the chili lasts longer.
It is useless to swallow a lot of water to reduce the burning given by the chilli pepper: capsaicin is soluble in alcohol or fat, in particular casein. So it may be useful to sip a glass of wine, eat cheese, a yogurt sauce or sip some milk.
This explains why in Mexican cuisine, very spicy and spicy, it is customary to accompany meals with sour cream, just as in Indian cuisine the dishes are accompanied by lassi, a yoghurt-based drink.
In any case, even a simple slice of bread is a very effective remedy against burning pepper, since chewing the crumb mechanically removes the capsaicin molecules from the receptors of the tongue.
As mentioned, capsaicin stimulates some receptors, including those of the tongue, which make you feel the typical spicy flavor, but also acts on those located at the level of the brown adipose tissue, the so-called Bat. This fabric has the function of releasing fat in the form of heat.
The intake of chilli, in fact, makes us feel a sensation of heat, which does not correspond to a real rise in body temperature.
By activating the bat receptors, capsaicin is able to release fat cells in the form of energy and temperature, rather than storing them as stocks.
Not only. Capsaicin is able to decrease the secretion of ghrelin, a pancreatic hormone responsible for feeling hungry. In this way, the appetite signal is weakened and less food is ingested.
Finally, chilli has the ability to accelerate the basal metabolic rate, i.e. the amount of energy the body needs daily to perform ordinary activities.
In nature there are about 3000 varieties of chili peppers, and new ones are discovered every year. The most common species are however five:
– Capiscum annuum;
– Capiscum frutescens;
– Capiscum chinense;
– Capiscum baccatum;
– Capiscum pubescens;
The capiscum annuum is the most important species commercially, the most cultivated in Italy. Sweet peppers also belong to this family. Chilli peppers with the highest degree of spiciness belong to the Chinense species, which, despite the name, originates from the Amazon. Among them, the famous habanero, Mexican pepper long considered the most spicy in the world.
Among the most popular chillies in Italy, we point out:
– Common hot pepper: it is the easiest to find. It has a low level of spiciness and very small dimensions. Generally it does not exceed 5 cm in length.
– Cayenne pepper: among the varieties of common pepper, cayenne pepper has a much higher degree of spiciness. It has a slimmer and elongated shape and can even reach 10 cm in length. It is grown mainly in the southern part of Italy, especially in the regions of Campania and Calabria.
– Baci di satan: These peppers are characterized by their small size and by the shape similar to that of a cherry crushed on the tip. They are typically eaten stuffed. Very common in the south.
– Jalapeno: Mexican chili pepper, it has small dimensions (between 4 and 7 cm) and a low degree of spiciness ranging from 2500 to 10000 SU. It is generally consumed when it is still green and not yet ripe, to enhance its aroma. It is a pepper suitable for everyone and very versatile in the kitchen.
– Poblano: one of the best known Mexican chillies. With a length ranging from 7 to 15 cm, it resembles a miniature, but spicy pepper. It is generally harvested green, to enhance its crunchiness and limit its spicy flavor. Among the Mexican recipes prepared with this chili there are the chiles rellenos, made with stuffed and fried poblano.
– Habanero: also Mexican, the notorious Habanero has long been the hottest pepper in the world, in the Red Savina variety, with about 577 thousand SU.
There are also other colors: yellow, orange, white, brown. However, these are extremely hot peppers, with a characteristic lantern shape ending in a slightly elongated tip. Similar to small peppers, they can reach 8 cm in length. Once they were unavailable in Italy. Today, however, they can also be found here.
About capsaicin, it is necessary to know that it is a substance that plays an important ecological role for these species. Its presence guarantees the survival and reproduction of the chilli plant in nature. The typical spicy flavor kept mammals away, which would eat their seeds, destroying them entirely through digestion.
On the other hand, birds are immune to it because they do not perceive its taste because they lack the receptors on which this substance acts. It is thanks to them that the chilli plant has managed to survive and reproduce. The seeds ingested by the birds, in fact, are dispersed during the meal or through the stool.
Unlike what happens in mammals, the seeds eaten by birds are not assimilated, but manage to go beyond their digestive system intact.
Chili can be eaten fresh in its less spicy varieties, adding it in salads, vegetable or legume dishes, while dried it can be added in small quantities in sauces, sauces, meats, vegetables and in general in all preparations.
In recent years, the habit of adding small quantities of chilli pepper to chocolate has also spread to enhance its taste and quality.
Cold peppers also prepare cold cuts, cheeses and excellent preserves.
To eliminate the burning sensation of the chili pepper from the mouth, it is better to eat a little breadcrumbs, drink milk or oily sauce or even alcoholic drinks. Water is not recommended because it increases the burning sensation.
As for the conservation, once dried, the chilli can be preserved whole, chopped or reduced to powder and must be kept in closed glass jars, away from heat and light.
Warning: The information shown is not medical advice and may not be accurate. The contents are for illustrative purposes only and do not replace medical advice.