Chili peppers come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, as well as varying flavors, and degrees of spiciness (or piquancy). The spiciness of chili peppers is measured in Scovilles, a unit of measurement which measures the amount of capsaicin present in the pepper, and can range from zero to over one million.
Chili peppers, and their constituent ingredients, have a plethora of healthful benefits. Many types of chili peppers can be found in local grocery stores, or grown at home in a garden.
For those without a penchant for spicy foods even the common bell pepper, available in all different colors from green to black, has beneficial properties. The vitamins A and C present in bell peppers contain very powerful antioxidants which effectively neutralize free radicals. These free radicals play a major role in the damage to cells throughout the body, and contribute to the buildup of cholesterol in arteries, causing heart disease and atherosclerosis. Vitamin A also has been shown in studies to reduce the occurrence of emphysema, and promote lung health. Bell peppers can be used in many dishes, as both accents or as a main dish. Stuffed Peppers, made with rice and beef, is a classic Italian meal, and can be prepared quickly and easily with very few ingredients. Peppers can be used to accent fajitas, vegetable skewers, and a variety of sandwiches, both cooked and uncooked.
For those of you who like to spice things up a bit, jalapeños, red chili, cayenne, and hotter varieties such as, habanero and Scotch bonnets, will provide just the zip you’re looking for. These peppers can be used in dishes such as tacos and burritos, where a jalapeño, cut up and added to the ingredients, adds the right amount of flavor and spice to make things interesting. The Scotch bonnet is one of the main ingredients used in Jamaican jerk sauces. It is one of the hottest peppers available, along with the habanero that is used to create some of the fieriest hot sauces. Red chili and cayenne peppers are used mainly as flavoring for sauces, soups, chili, and anything else where a little punch is desired. These peppers, along with other varieties, are still rich in Vitamins A and C, and contain the same antioxidants that are important to the neutralization of free radicals found in their not-so-spicy brethren, the bell pepper. But flavor isn’t the only thing we get from the spicier varieties of chili peppers. The capsaicin in the pepper is a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory, and is being studied as an effective treatment for sensory nerve fiber disorders such as arthritis and psoriasis; this, along with clearing congestion in the lungs and nose, boosting your immunity, stopping the spread of prostate cancer, and preventing stomach ulcers, make the chili pepper an important ingredient in healthy living. The capsaicin found in these peppers also has been shown to promote thermogenesis (heat production) and oxygen consumption which helps to burn calories. This makes the chili pepper an ally in anyone’s attempt to shed a few pounds.
When selecting peppers you should choose those that have vivid colors, tight skin, and are free from blemishes. The stem should be green and firm, and avoid peppers with signs of decay and age. Chili peppers can be found all year long, but are in greater abundance during the summer months. They can be frozen straight off the vine without blanching, or canned to be used in recipes.