The culinary gem found in varied colours, sizes and forms, the chilli or chilli pepper occupies a pride of place in the cuisine of various cultures.
Whether green chilli, dried red chilli, paprika, jalapeno or cayenne pepper, they all abound in therapeutic properties. The characteristic hotness of a chilli and its multitude of health benefits are both due to its integral component, capsaicin.
Green chilli is the mainstay in our curries, chutneys and vegetable dishes. The fresh ones are rich in Vitamins C (almost five times more than in Orange), B and E and also iron and potassium. Capsaicin plays a role in the release of endorphins (mood boosters), improves blood circulation (by thinning clots) and clears blocked nasal passages. Besides being low in calories and sodium, the green chilli also contains folic acid and omega-6 fatty acids, which limit the risk of heart disease. When consumed regularly, it regulates the level of insulin and helps in the management of diabetes.
The bell pepper or capsicum offers more than a colourful and tantalising touch to salads and stir-fries. It is rich in phytochemicals (whose strong antioxidant activity helps fight cancers), fibre (which is good for digestive health) and Vitamins A and E (which protect vision and prevent heart ailments). Bell pepper is also a good source of Vitamins C and B6, which improve metabolism and immunity.
The cayenne pepper diet is quite popular amongst dieters to eliminate toxins, charge up hormone levels and perk the energy levels. The hot cayenne pepper is being studied for its potent calorie-burning, inflammation-fighting, and heat-generating and arthritic pain- relieving benefits.
The capsaicin level in a pickled jalapeno is better than that found in a fresh jalapeno or green chilli or capsicum, and that makes for better free radical scavenging attributes. A common feature in the Mexican tacos and nachos, the small but mighty jalapeno adds ample amounts of Vitamins C and K and potassium to a meal. The piquancy added makes the dish spicy, satiates faster and helps in containing or reducing body weight.
In people with sensitive stomachs, IBS or bleeding ulcers, consumption of chilli or spicy food may cause stomach discomfort.