The term "peppers" encompasses a diverse group of plants, ranging from the popular sweet green or red bell pepper to the fiery hot habañero or the even more lethal Scotch bonnet. When Columbus tasted the small, hot red "berries" he found on his Caribbean voyages, he believed he had reached India—where Europeans obtained black pepper—and called them red pepper. In truth, the native peoples of the Americas had been growing and enjoying sweet and chili peppers for an estimated 7,000 years. Soon after Columbus's ships brought them back to Spain, traders spread them around the world, transforming cuisines—and people's preventive health prospects—from Morocco to Hungary, and India to China.
Peppers—whether sweet bell or hot chili—are members of the plant genus "capsicum" (cap-sih-kum), a term that comes from the Greek word kapto
, which means "to bite."
All peppers contain compounds called capsaicinoids. This is especially true of chili peppers, which derive their spicy heat—as well as extraordinary anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-cancer, heart-healthy effects—from very high levels of capsaicinoids, the most common form of which is capsaicin.
In addition to capsaicin, chilies are high in antioxidant carotenes and flavonoids, and contain about twice the amount of vitamin C found in citrus fruits. Almost any dish—from homemade soups, stews and chili to stir-fries, salads and salsas—can benefit from small amounts of hot peppers.
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