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A Brief History Of Chili– The Benefits Of Adding Chili In Your Diet – Nutritional Benefits of ChiliChili Effects – Are There Any?

Do you love spicy food? If yes, then you probably have a stash of chili in different variants of home. If not, then for sure there is still chili there somewhere because this will always be a staple in every household.

A lot has been said about chili. It is believed to be an aphrodisiac, some say it could kill your tastebuds, while others think that it could help you lose weight.

Regardless, here’s a rundown of what chili really is including nutritional content, health benefits, and even tips on how to use chili.

Chili In A Nutshell

Contrary to popular belief, chili or Capsicum annuum is not a vegetable. In fact, it is actually a berry and related to bell pepper and tomato.

Chili comes in more than 200 varieties. Sizes can be anywhere between a quarter-inch and 12 inches long. In terms of appearance, chilies can be plump and round or thin and long. When it comes to color, it could be green, red, yellow-brown, purple, or yellow.

Some of the types of chili include:

  • Jalapeno
  • Ancho
  • Serrano
  • Pasilla
  • Cascabel
  • Cayenne
  • Guero
  • Carribe
  • Hontak
  • Japone
  • Poblano

Choose chili with smooth skin and deep vivid colors. Generally, the larger the chili, the milder the flavor. Smaller chili contains more seeds and veins, which is where capsaicin is found; hence making them hotter.

Chili is known for its hot flavor but here’s an interesting fact: water won’t help after eating spicy food. This is because capsaicin is an oil-based compound, which means it won’t be dissolved by water. In fact, water will only spread the compound around your mouth and make it worse.

What should you do then? Drink milk instead. The casein protein found in milk binds with capsaicin, thereby preventing the chili compound to bind with the tongue’s pain receptors. The same goes for fat-laden and sugary food.

Chili History

Despite the hot and spicy flavor, chili is still among the widely used ingredient in the kitchen. So, what’s the story behind this?

Chili originated from Mesoamerica or the area starting from Central Mexico to Central America and northern Costa Rica. Archaeologists believed that chili was already existing as early as 5000 BC in Tehuacan valley in Mexico. There were also reports about the presence of chili among Aztec and Mayan societies, which they used not only to add more flavor to the food but also to cure various illnesses.

Then, Portuguese explorers, including Ferdinand Magellan, and their broad trade routes introduced chili to the world, including India and the rest of Asia. Since its entry during the 1500s, this powerful red plant became a favorite together with black peppercorn and ginger.

Rumor has it that Spanish Sister Mary of Agreda was the first person who put chili con carne recipe on paper during the 17th century. She was known as “La Dama de Azul” or “lady in blue” of Native American legends. According to the legends, Sister Mary’s recipe includes onions, antelope meat, tomato, and chili pepper.

As the trade routes improved, the popularity of chili also grew. It reached Brazil, East Asia, Africa, Middle East, and China. Domestication of chili became popular as well, prompting early civilization to adopt chili in their meals.

During the 19th century, Spanish priests believed that chili was an aphrodisiac because of its “passionate effects.” In their sermons, they would refer to this ingredient as “hot as hell’s brimstone” and “Soup of the Devil.” Nevertheless, that didn’t stop people from eating chili. Texas citizens came up with their own recipes using chili, with some turning it into a business.

Love it or hate, chili is among the popular and widely used ingredients today.

Chili Nutrition Facts

One tablespoon or 15 grams of red chili pepper contains the following:

  • 88 percent water
  • 6 calories
  • 1.3 grams of carbohydrates
  • 0.3 grams of protein
  • 0.8 grams of sugar
  • 0.2 grams of fiber
  • 0.1 gram of fat

The nutritional profile may not be as impressive as the other kitchen ingredients but it gives a notable amount of fiber and protein.

Nonetheless, chili also has the following vitamins and minerals to boast of:

  • Vitamin A, specifically beta carotene
  • Vitamin B6, which plays a specific role in energy metabolism
  • Vitamin C, making chili among the most powerful antioxidants that could help boost immunity and speed up wound healing
  • Copper, which keeps your bones strong and neurons healthy
  • Vitamin K1, or phylloquinone, which is essential for healthy kidneys and bones
  • Potassium, which helps reduce the risk of heart disease

Still, what sets chili apart from the rest is capsaicin. It is chili’s main bioactive plant compound, which gives its unique taste and flavor as well as tons of health benefits.

You can also find other bioactive plant compounds in chili peppers including:

  • Capsanthin – This is the main carotenoid found in chili peppers. This powerful antioxidant is primarily responsible for chili’s red color and could potentially help fight cancer.
  • Lutein – This compound is known for improving one’s eye health. However, this is more prevalent on green chili than red ones.
  • Ferulic Acid – It is a type of antioxidant that provides protection against various diseases.
  • Sinapic Acid – Also known as sinapinic acid, this plant compound comes with many health benefits, too.
  • Violaxanthin – This is most common on yellow chili pepper and accounts for up to 68 percent carotenoid content.

Keep in mind that red chili pepper has higher antioxidant content compared to yellow and green variants.  

Chili Benefits

Given this nutritional profile, one might wonder what it can do to your health. Below are chili’s many health benefits:

An Effective Pain Reliever

Pain is something you can feel when you get hurt. Depending on the degree of force inflicted and your level of tolerance, pain can be anything between mild to severe or unbearable.

Pain relievers do help and are effective in blocking or decreasing pain; however, this could be subject to abuse. Some may take this incorrectly such as taking in higher doses or take more than the prescribed frequency, which could lead to overdose.

The good news is there is a natural remedy for pain relief.

Capsaicin, chili’s main bioactive plant compound, has the ability to bind with pain receptors or nerve endings that sense pain. It has the capability to do the following:

  • Induce a burning sensation without causing real burn injuries
  • Makes pain receptors insensitive to different kinds of pain including heartburn
  • Desensitize pain receptors over time

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, experts gave subject participants who suffered from heartburn 2.5 grams of red chili pepper every day. Initially, the participants’ pain worsened but eventually, the symptoms improved over time.

Another study published in the journal, Gastroenterology, showed that after six weeks of eating three grams of chili per day, people with heartburn noticed an improvement against heartburn.

Nonetheless, it is worth noting that desensitization is not permanent. Based on a study published in Physiology & Behavior, the effects of capsaicin may be reversed in one to three days after you stopped consuming it.

Helps You Lose Weight

Did you know that the percentage of obesity between 2017 and 2018 in America is at 42.4 percent? In fact, it increased over the years from 30.5 percent during 1999 to 2000.

This is a serious matter. Obesity could lead to a lot of conditions including type 2 diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular conditions, and even certain types of cancer.

Thankfully, there are natural ways to help you lose weight. Aside from eating healthy and exercising regularly, eating chili could also help in this department.

Based on a study published in Appetite, daily consumption of capsaicinoids, which is chili’s main component, may contribute to weight management through reduction of energy intake.

Another study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that adding red pepper to your high-fat diet could increase lipid oxidation. Consequently, there is an increase in the perceived oiliness of meals for a high-carbohydrate diet. 

In a more recent study, experts found out that taking 10 milligrams of chili has positive thermogenic and metabolic effects, which could potentially help in weight loss. Of course, this will only be more effective when combined with proper diet and exercise.

Here’s the thing: chili could do more than this. According to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, subject participants who consumed chili regularly before meals experienced reduced calorie intake, although this is not absolute. Another study showed that individuals who did not regularly take capsaicin still experienced a significant reduction in calorie intake and appetite.

Still, one thing is for sure: adding chili in your diet combined with healthy diet and regular exercise could do wonders on your weight and help you manage it. After all, too much intake could encourage your body to develop tolerance, thereby making the weight loss effects less effective.

Better Relationship Among Teams

Building camaraderie and teamwork among different individuals doesn’t happen overnight. It will take time before they develop and work as a team.

Did you know that chili can help in fostering better team bonding?

One study revealed that people who ate bird’s eye chili pepper before playing a game were more motivated to work as a group. This is despite the possibility of winning less.

Of course, there is no assurance that eating spicy food before any competitions will guarantee that the group will work as a team. Time spent and mutual respect will contribute to the team’s success.

Chili Side Effects

Now, let’s go to the downsides. Despite the health benefits, chili may not work well for everyone. Below are some of the most common side effects:

Burning Sensation

Chili is known for its hot, burning flavor. This is because of capsaicin, which binds pain receptors and causes intense burning sensation. This is also the reason why chili, specifically oleoresin capsicum compound, is often used in pepper spray.

When used in high amounts, it may cause inflammation, severe pain, and redness, especially when sprayed directly in the eyes.

Lower Tolerance For Chili

It’s okay to eat chili from time-to-time. But if you can’t live without eating chili everyday, then it could create an issue, at least in terms of tolerance for this ingredient.

Exposure to chili for a prolonged period is not advisable. When you take too much chili, your body will develop tolerance towards capsaicin. As a result, certain pain neurons will develop insensitivity to further pain. By the time you take it, you won’t feel any effects.

Intestinal Distress

There are many reasons why you will experience stomach pain and diarrhea. It could be because of the food you ate, indigestion, or even eating chili.

Eating chili could cause cramps, abdominal pain, painful diarrhea, or burning sensation among others. This could get worse for those who have IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

According to the journal, Neurogastroenterology and Motility, ingestion of chili could result to more burning and abdominal pain for diarrhea-predominat IBS (IBS-D) patients. Another more recent study published in the same journal showed after six weeks of eating chili, IBS-D patients experienced an increase in rectal sensory threshold.

In case you have IBS, then eating chili is not highly recommended.

Increased Risk For Cancer

There are several reasons for cancer development. Although evidence on the relationship between cancer and chili are mixed, there are still studies suggesting that chili could potentially trigger the development of cancer.

Based on a study published in the International Journal of Cancer, high consumption of red chili pepper could lead to gallbladder cancer. In another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, eating chili pepper is a strong risk factor for gastric cancer. In India, one study revealed that the use of red chili pepper was a risk factor for mouth and throat cancer.

On the other hand, a more recent study published in Cancer Research showed that capsaicin may or may not increase the risk.

Don’t panic yet. These are observational studies and do not necessarily mean that you will develop cancer when you eat chili. Still, take it easy on your intake to minimize the risk.

Chili Storage

Storage is crucial for every food ingredient. Store it too long and you won’t be able to enjoy its full flavor. Plus, you might waste your money since you’ll end up throwing it away. This is why proper storage is important so you can extend its shelf life while maximizing the flavor and health benefits.

If you don’t want to see food go to waste, then here are storage tips you need to remember when it comes to chili:

  • Place chili peppers inside a plastic or resealable bag and out it inside the refrigerator’s vegetable drawer. This will last for as long as three weeks since it slows down rotting.
  • Do not wash chili before storing. Keep them as dry as possible to avoid speeding up the rotting process.
  • If you prefer storing chili in room temperature, then place the chili inside a paper bag. Then, keep it in a cool, dark place like the pantry.
  • For longer shelf life, slice the chili pepper and then place on a baking pan on single layer. Let them freeze until firm. Thereafter, transfer the frozen chili in a resealable bag and put it back inside the freezer. This will give you months supply of chili.
  • In case you already chopped the chili pepper, here’s what you can do: put the chopped chili inside a resealable bag and place a paper towel inside. This will help absorb the moisture and keep them dry.

What if you accidentally cooked the chili? Don’t worry. Consider this as your time-saver technique. Here’s what you can do:

  • Cook the sliced chili with a bit of oil for only a few minutes.
  • Make sure that the chili are only cooked about halfway to help maintain crispness.
  • Then, place the half-cooked chili in a baking pan and freeze for one hour or until the chilies are firm.
  • Put the frozen chili inside a freezer bag or vacuum seal them. Then, place it inside the freezer.

This method will extend chili’s shelf life for up to six months. When you’re ready to use them, simply thaw and then cook.

Chili Alternatives

Of course, nothing beats real chilis. In case you ran out and cannot go to the grocery, then jalapeno powder or cayenne pepper could also give the heat and kick you’re looking for.

Aside from these, here are some alternatives you can try:

  • Black pepper or peppercorns – When used generously, black pepper can give the similar spicy effect. This is ideal for soup, marinades, stew, or salads.
  • Red bell pepper flakes – This is recommended if you prefer just the right amount of heat on your food.
  • Ancho chili – This is just like chili pepper but have milder and sweeter flavor. You can use this for soup, fish, meat, and beans since it has minimal heat.
  • Paprika – This is a great alternative for chili powder, simply because it has the same red flavor. Taste wise, it could also give a hot flavor. If you prefer the smokey taste, then go for smoked paprika.
  • Cumin – This ingredient could give the food some spiciness. It works best on curry, stew, or even tea.
  • Oregano – Surprisingly, this herb could also be an alternative to chili, particularly chili powder. Oregano leaves have numbing taste that is slightly bitter and hot.
  • Chipotle – If you’re looking for intense smoky flavor, then this is a great alternative.

Or you can also try mixing the following herbs as a replacement for chili:

  • 1 teaspoon of paprika and 1 ½ teaspoon of ground cumin
  • Hot pepper sauce, 1 teaspoon of powdered oregano and 2 teaspoons of powdered cumin

Chili Usage / Recipes

Although the main purpose is to add spice in your food, chili has many uses in the kitchen.

Here are several ways you can use chili pepper:

  • Add minced chili in your favorite dishes to give it a natural hot and spicy flavor.
  • Chop and add chili in your spaghetti and other tomato-based sauces.
  • Saute chili in oil for a few minutes and then remove the chili. You can use the oil for cooking because chili pepper slows down oxidation. This means chili oil will not go bad quickly compared to ordinary cooking oil.
  • Roast chili by coating it lightly in vegetable oil. Place it in a broiler and broil for five to eight minutes or until broiled evenly.
  • Grill chili by placing them in skewers and then season with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  • Try making stuffed chili pepper. Cut the chili lengthwise and then remove the seeds and membranes. Blanch the chili in boiling water for three minutes and pat them dry before you stuff with corn, sausage, and choice of veggies. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes.
  • Use chili as a seasoning or marinade. It blends well with herbs and spices like basil, oregano, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, fennel, and parsley.

Just like any other kitchen ingredient, chili can also be used outside the kitchen. In fact, Indians use chili as part of a ritual to help them bring good luck. They use seven green chili and lemon, and string them together to form a pendant. It will be then hung in a safe part of the house like under the table and will be left there until Saturday. This ornament can also be used to drive bad spirits out of the house.

Italians use chili differently. Those who live in the Southern area consider chili as a “demon’s spice.” Others use it for personal protection, usually to protect the car or house, or even protection against gossipers and evil eye. Then, Italians will hang fresh strings of chili in the house, like the door or balcony. Some even carry a plastic horn where they can put the fresh chili inside. They will carry this around since they consider this as a lucky charm.

The Bottom Line

Chili has been around for centuries and it’s not surprising why. Although its main purpose is to add spice in your favorite dishes, chili is also rich in various vitamins and minerals to give your health a boost.

Still, individuals with IBS must take extra caution when eating chili. Otherwise, it could lead to burning sensation or intestinal distress.

Nonetheless, chili can be used in variety of dishes. Just take note of the storage tips to prolong chili’s shelf life.  

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