Both sweet bell peppers and spicy chili peppers belong to the Capsicum family of vegetables. While both sweet and spicy peppers may be similar, with vivid red, green, or yellow skin and a crisp, yet juicy flesh, there is a striking difference between the two — capsaicin. Beware of it, embrace it, crave it, this alkaloid compound is what gives hot peppers their intense heat and remarkable health benefits.
What are the high capsaicin containing foods? From habanero to cayenne, the following pepper plants are hot and healthy.
Capsaicin is formed in the glands of chili peppers, at the junction of the placenta and pod walls. It stimulates chemoreceptor nerve endings in mucous membranes, causing the burning sensation on the skin or in your mouth. It acts as a protective phytochemical for deterring animals from nibbling on pepper plants (birds are immune to the pain however).
The comparison of capsaicin in a chili pepper, or the measure of hotness, is expressed in the Scoville scale. Capsaicin content is measured in parts per million with the hottest pepper, naga jolokia having the highest amount at 1 million Scoville units. The next hottest and capsaicin-richest of the more well-known peppers are as follows:
Habanero chili — 100,000 to 300,000 units
- Jamaica pepper — 100,000 to 200,000 units
- Africa birdseye — 100,000 units
- Thai pepper — 50,000 to 100,000 units
- Cayenne pepper — 30,000 to 50,000 units
- Jalapeno pepper — 2,000 to 8,000 units
- Anaheim — 500 to 2,000 units
Other Nutritional Benefits of the Capsicum Family
Aside from capsaicin, chili peppers are rich in several important nutrients. They are great sources of beta-carotene, which is turned into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is important for eye health, immune health, and skin health. Peppers are also rich in vitamin C, which is also an important nutrient for the immune system, helping with the production of white blood cells. Vitamin C is needed for tissue repair, healthy gums, and proper adrenal gland function. Both nutrients also act as protective antioxidants in the body. Vitamin K, which prevents blood clotting and helps with the uptake of calcium into bone, is also found in peppers.
Bell Peppers and Capsaicin
Bell peppers are sweet, not spicy, and they do not produce capsaicin. They do however produce other capsaicinoids. Capsaicin is a type of capsaicinoid. So, if you can’t handle the intense, burning heat of capsaicin, you can still enjoy an incredibly healthy vegetable by going for the sweet bell peppers, which are loaded with nutrients, fiber, and beneficial phytochemicals.
With so many types of chili peppers there are many high capsaicin foods to choose from. From mild to scorching, these vegetables are healthy and worth the challenge.
World’s Healthiest Foods <https://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=140>
"What Makes Peppers Hot May Also Be Cool for What Ails You." (Science Daily, November, 2003) <https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/11/031104064132.htm>
Overview of Major Capsaicinoids <https://www.homesteadcollective.org/mpg/science/majorcap.shtml>
The Scoville Scale of Hotness <https://www.chiliwonders.com/chili.scoville.htm>
Rowland, B.J. and B. Villalon, E.E. Burns. "Capsaicin production in sweet bell and pungent jalapeno peppers." (Journal of Agricultural Chemistry, May 1983) <https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf00117a005>
photo by Adam Baker (CC/flickr)
photo by Tobias Kankelborg (CC/flickr)