Chillies: Fire and spice

Chillies pack a fiery punch; they also offer some great health benefits

ChiliesChillies are the world’s most commonly used spice—fresh, dried or in powder form. There are around 400 varieties of chillies around the globe. Chillies are known for their sting. Once you bite into a chilli you remember the flavour, thanks to the burning sensation, for a long, long time. Even touching a cut chilli will leave your hands burning. But there’s more to the chilli than its fire.

Health benefits

Pain relief: The sting of chillies can kill other pain, a concept that even research supports. A bite of the chilli stimulates the pain receptors in our throat and tongue by binding capsaicin, the active compound that lends chillies their ‘bite’. These receptors send message to the brain, which responds by releasing endorphins, the natural pain killers of our body. Because of this, chillies are extensively used in pain-relieving drugs, especially those prescribed for arthritis.

Better sugar levels: A study published in the American Journal of Nutrition found that regular consumption of chillies reduces the body’s requirement of insulin to control post-meal sugar levels by 60 per cent. This is a big benefit for diabetics and overweight individuals.

Cancer relief and prevention: Capsaicin in chillies helps prevents prostate cancer from spreading, according to a study published in Cancer Research. Chillies, especially red ones, contain a good amount of vitamin C and beta-carotene, which are powerful antioxidants that help terminate the free radicals from our body, helping prevent cancer.

Freedom from congestion: Eating pungent food when you have a blocked nose helps clear congestion. The capsaicin causes secretions that help clean the nasal passage.

Protection from heart disease: The blood-thinning properties of chillies boost blood circulation and help prevent stroke. The vitamin B present decreases the levels of homocysteine, which harms the blood vessels and increases your risk of heart disease. The Cayenne chilli helps decrease cholesterol, triglyceride levels and platelet aggregation.

Weight loss: Capsaicin being a heat-generating compound, produces heat, which boosts the metabolic rate by 23 per cent for about three hours. An increased metabolic rate helps burn more fat.

Improved immunity: Chillies are listed as one of the super foods that strengthen immunity. They are rich in beta carotene, which turns to vitamin A, a natural immunity booster that acts as the first line of defence against infections.
Chillies contain a good amount of vitamin C, which too benefits the immune system.

Variety in the spice

Green chillies enhance the pungency of a recipe. They are incorporated into the cooking by chopping, grinding and splitting them. The darker the chilli and shorter its length, the more pungent it is.

Red chillies are the ripened fruits and have a different flavour from green chillies. They are also more potent. Dried red chillies are most commonly used in the tempering of dals and vegetable dishes. They are used the world over for sauces or as flakes.

Chilli powder is mostly used in day-to-day cooking to get a fiery punch to the dish or to lend it a rich colour. It’s an unavoidable ingredient in pickles, sauces, and marinating batters.

Mostly red or cayenne chillies are used for making chilli powder. Kashmiri chilli powder has a deep red colour and is milder than any other chilli powder. Most of the producers of chilli powder claim their product to be hygienically prepared from handpicked chillies. Still chilli powders are prone to adulteration. It’s better to choose the home-made variety.

How to choose chillies

  • Select chillies that are deep and glossy in colour and with a firm skin.
  • Fresh chillies have a hard and fresh stem.
  • Don’t buy chillies that have a wrinkled skin or black spots.
  • When buying dried chillies, choose the bright red ones. Chillies with a faded colour may not have a good flavour.

How to store/preserve

  • Store fresh chillies in paper bags.
  • Remove stalk and store in the vegetable tray of the refrigerator; don’t store them in plastic wraps as it accumulates moisture that accelerates spoilage.
  • Dry fresh chillies or smoke them to preserve them for long.
  • Keep dried chillies and chilli powder in air tight containers. Preserve the bright red colour of chilli powder by adding a small amount of oil to it.

What’s in a chilli?

Nutritional value of chilli [Per 100g]
Source: The National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad.
Moisture 10.00g 85.700g
Protein 15.000g 2.900g
Fat 6.200g 0.600g
Minerals 6.100g 1.000g
Fibre 30.200g 6.800g
Carbohydrates 31.600g 3.000g
Energy 246.000kcal 29.000kcal
Calcium 160.000mg 30.000mg
Phosphorus 370.000mg 80.000mg
Iron 2.300mg 4.400mg
Carotene 345.000µg 175.000µg
Thiamine 0.930mg 0.190mg
Riboflavin 0.430mg 0.390mg
Niacin 9.500mg 0.900mg
Vitamin C 50.000mg 111.000mg
Minerals & Trace
Sodium 14.000mg
Potassium 530.000mg
Phytin Phosphorus 71.000mg 7.000mg
Magnesium 272.000mg
Copper 1.400mg
Manganese 1.380mg
Molybdenum 0.070mg
Zinc 1.780mg
Chromium 0.040mg
Oxalic Acid 67.000mg

Did you know?

India is the world’s largest producer and exporter of chillies.

  • Eating chilli is a popular exercise among the karate athletes who use it to strengthen their minds and willpower.
  • Extracted capsaicin is used to make pepper spray, a non-lethal weapon.
  • Bhut Jalokia is the hottest chilli in the world; it has 1,001,304 Scoville Heat Units [SHU], which means that it needs to be diluted more than 10 lakh times before it is declared heat-free. The chilli’s sting is so potent that scientists at the Indian Defence Research and Development Organization will be using it to develop hand grenades.
  • Birds and fish cannot taste chillies since pain receptors are absent in them.
  • Chillies belong to the same family of potatoes and tomatoes.
  • Chillies are a superior source of vitamin C compared to oranges.
Neethu Vipin
Neethu Vipin is a post graduate in nutrition and dietetics. She is also a dietician advisor with a leading Pharma company in Mumbai.


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