Peppers can fight cancer

Peppers, both sweet and hot, originated in Central and South America. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture records, commercial bell peppers were first produced in the southern United States in 1925.

Peppers are loved for their versatility in many great dishes, including grilled for barbecues, stuffed with desired filling and baked, steamed with other veggies, cooked in sauces or stir-fries, or eaten cold, crisp and raw in salads or as snacks any time of the day. It’s no wonder they are the favourites of the vegetarians and vegans.

They come from the colorful Capsicum family which can be split into two main categories - sweet bell peppers and the spicy chillies, such as jalapenos. The difference arises from the presence of capsaicin in chillies (which is explained later) but not in sweet bell peppers.

Other common names for sweet bell peppers are capsicums, sweet peppers or simply green/red peppers.

You cannot differentiate the sweet bell peppers varieties when they are still young because they are all green. As they ripen, they will change color. Depending on the stage of ripeness and their variety, their colors range from orange, yellow, red, purple, brown, black, ivory or green and so do their sweetness.

But green bell peppers remain green throughout the ripening process. Thus, it can be challenging to differentiate the other bell peppers from the green variety before they ripen.

All peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C. Green bell peppers contain as much as two times of vitamin C as oranges while red or yellow pepper pack three or four times the daily value of vitamin C.

Besides power-packed with vitamin C, bell peppers also provide vitamin B6, phytochemicals such as lycopene and beta-carotene (the precursor for vitamin A), folate, potassium and plenty of fiber. Chilli peppers contain an additional substance, called capsaicin which has many health benefits:

· Effective treatment and natural pain relief for inflammation such as arthritis, psoriasis, diabetic neuropathy.

· Reduce risk of heart attack and stroke as it helps to reduce cholesterol levels and formation of blood clots.

· Clear blocked nose and congested lungs.

· Prevent prostate cancer by inhibiting growth of cancerous cells · Prevent stomach ulcers by killing bacteria in the stomach and stimulate more protective stomach juices.

· Help to lose weight as it speeds up the body’s metabolism rate, suppresses appetite and cravings for sweet foods.

· Lower risk of Type 2 diabetes by controlling the blood sugar.

Capsaicin is what makes the chillies hot as it produces a strong burning sensation in the mouth. Many mistake the seeds as the hottest part of peppers. Actually, capsaicin is most concentrated in the white membrane where the seed is attached.

Thus, you should be careful when handling the chilli peppers so as not to let them come in contact with your skin or eyes such as rubbing your eyes with your hands after touching the chillies. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling the chillies.

Should you eat a really hot chilli which causes an unbearable burning sensation in your mouth, drink milk or eat yogurt, rice or bread instead of water to ease the pain.

Here are a few tips on how to handle the chillies skillfully:

· Wear gloves.

· To remove the seeds without touching them, hold the chilli stem and cut open with a paring knife. Cut away the membranes and seeds with the knife. Another handy tool is the melon baller. Place the chillies in water for 15 minutes before cutting them. Note that this will only reduce but will not fully remove the "hotness" of the chillies.

· If you do not need to remove the seeds, just hold the chili by the stem and cut the chillies into rings. Asians like to eat the raw chillies as a dip in this manner, with the chillies soaked in lime juice or soy sauce.

Chilli peppers come in different sizes, shapes and degrees of heat or spiciness. The more mature the pepper, the hotter it will be. To measure the heat level in chillies, the Scoville Scale is often used. The Scoville Scale converts the amount of capsaicin in parts per million into Scoville heat units. So the greater the number of Scoville Scale, the hotter the pepper. A sweet bell pepper measures 0 Scoville unit and a habaneros or scotch bonnet, the hottest known chilli peppers, records at around 300,000 units.

Peppers are available in the markets all year round. Choose well-shaped, firm and glossy peppers which feel heavy for their size. Look out for unhealthy peppers with soft or wrinkled areas, cracks, slashes or black spots. Except for jalapeñwhich you will see some tiny cracks at the end of their stems, fresh chilli peppers should not have any cracks at all.

It’s best to wrap the peppers in paper bags or paper towels and store in the refrigerator to keep their freshness, up to 5 days for bell peppers and up to 3 weeks for chilli peppers.

Remember to wash the peppers before cooking so as to remove the wax on their surfaces.

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About The Author, Laura Ng
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