Peppers, a full range of flavours

They spice up our meals, add taste and crunch under our teeth. They're peppers: red, green, yellow. The palette of colours matches that of their flavours, whether they're fruity, woody, sweet or smoky. Health wise, peppers are a fountain of hidden virtues.

Peppers, a full range of flavours

Globally, there is a great variety of fresh, dried or powdered peppers to titillate our taste buds. The most refined palates will appreciate hot peppers such as the jalapeño or the Espelette; the most daring will take their chances with incendiary peppers like the Scotch Bonnet, the bird pepper or even the Bhut Jolokia, the strongest pepper we know.

Holes in the stomach?

Relax: in the countries where the use of peppers is common, such as Brazil or Thailand, the stomach ulcer rate is no higher than elsewhere. As well, in a study conducted by renowned French physical chemist Hervé This with 12 volunteers who consumed extremely spicy meals, endoscopic examination revealed no visible damage to their stomach linings.

Quite the contrary, in fact. As most stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria, peppers can help prevent their formation by destroying the bacteria that causes them (Helicobacter pylori). Before, it was recommended that ulcer patients avoid spicy foods so as not to aggravate the pain. Recent studies, however, have shown that peppers can even help relieve these symptoms. So much for the ulcers. Still, if you suffer from Gastroesophageal reflux disease (aka acid reflux), you should not consume strong spices.

A natural appetite suppressant

A study led by a group of researchers at Laval University in Quebec City and published in the respected British Journal of Nutrition revealed that hot peppers act as appetite suppressants. Eaten in spicy courses, the active component in peppers, called capsaicin, seems to have a calming effect on appetite that reduces the average amount of food consumed at the next meal by about 200 calories. What's more, seasoning meals with pepper is a good substitute for salt. So here are two good reasons to spice up your diet.

About peppers

  • Peppers freeze easily in small bags designed for the purpose.
  • There is often confusion when we talk about peppers. In English, pepper is often taken to mean black pepper, while cayenne is in fact a pepper. Bell peppers are also called sweet peppers.
  • Fans of strong spice sensations are so numerous that an American magazine, Chili Pepper, is entirely devoted to this hot subject.
  • Capsaicin is mostly located in the seeds and the thin white membrane inside the pepper. They can be easily removed with the point of a knife.
  • Don't be fooled by size: little round peppers usually contain more capsaicin than thin or long peppers.
  • Stuffed up? Drink tea spiked with a bit of cayenne pepper. The capsaicin it contains is similar to the makeup of a medication to relieve sinus congestion that acts to stimulate the excretion of nasal mucus.

Kitchen precautions

  1. If you have sensitive skin, wear rubber gloves before slicing a hot pepper.
  2. If you're more adventurous, wash your hands with soap and water after finishing, taking care to wash beneath your fingernails.
  3. Don't forget to wash the preparation surface with vinegar water or a chlorinated cleaner, or to clean the washcloths you use.
  4. If you didn't wear gloves, avoid touching your contact lenses or a baby's skin just after slicing a hot pepper.
  5. If your hands are getting hot, lather them with rubbing alcohol (capsaicin dissolves in rubbing alcohol), then immerse your hands in a bowl of cold milk.
  6. Your mouth is on fire? The Chili Pepper Institute of New Mexico State University recommends soothing the burning sensation with a dairy product such as whole milk, chocolate milk or yogurt. The principal protein they contain (casein) helps remove the tenacious pepper particles from the taste receptors. Avoid water or beer, which will only make it worse.

The pepper heat scale

In 1912, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville created a scale to class peppers according to their capsaicin content, the principal active ingredient responsible for the burning sensation in the mouth. This scale, which still remains rather subjective as it is based on comparative taste tests, can nonetheless offer an overview of the considerable differences between different types of peppers.

Scotville Units - Type of pepper or pepper product 

15 000 000 - 16 000 000 → Pure capsaicin

2 000 000 - 5 300 000 → Legal aerosol defence spray (Pepper spray)

1 000 000 → The Bhut Jolokia pepper, the world's strongest

350 000 - 577 000 → Habanero chili pepper

100 000 - 325 000 → The Scotch Bonnet pepper

30 000 - 60 000 → Bird or Pequin pepper

30 000 - 50 000 → Cayenne pepper

10 000 - 23 000 → Serrano pepper

2 500 - 8 000 → Jalapeño pepper

2 500 - 5 000 → Red Tabasco Sauce 

1 500 - 2 500 → Espelette pepper; bottled Sriracha sauce

1 000 - 1 500 → Poblano pepper

600 - 800 → Green Tabasco sauce

100 - 500 → Mild Paprika

  1. Paprika: A Hungarian word for the powder of green peppers traditionally cultivated in Hungary. An indispensable ingredient for a dish without character. Its taste is very mild and perfumed although it could be stronger when mixed with peppers. Take care to read the label.The mildest peppers

  2. Espelette pepper: A red pepper grown only in the Basque village of Espelette and other nearby regions. A similar variety is cultivated in Quebec in the Lanaudière town of Sainte-Béatrix and sold as a "Pepper of the Espelette variety" (see page XX). It has a fruity taste with warm but non-violent heat.
  3. Chili powder or seasoning: A spice mixture with a base of dried ground peppers, to which black pepper, cumin, oregano, paprika and cloves is usually added. A variable taste according to the strength of the peppers used.

Hot peppers

  1. Cayenne: Likely originating in the town of the same name in French Guyana, this pepper is usually sold in a powder. It is used in the preparation of red Tabasco sauce and chili seasoning. Hot and searing taste.
  2. Bird Pepper: A little pepper that is very popular with the birds that eat it while rejecting the spicy seeds, which helps seed the plant naturally. Also called Pequin pepper in South America. A strong taste that is similar to Cayenne pepper.
  3. Habanero: A small but thick pepper that can be yellow, orange, green or red, is also known as the Antilles pepper or the Lampion pepper. Often confused with its cousin, the Scotch Bonnet, it is used in the preparation of hot sauces. A unique aroma but with an incendiary taste.

Medium peppers

  1. Jalapeño: A Mexican variety originally from Jalapa, with a green or red colour according to the degree of maturity. Used notably in salsas, guacamole and green Tabasco sauce, which is milder than the red.

Smoked peppers

  1. Chipotle: a kind of large Jalapeño that is very dry, smoky and abrupt. Popular in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisines, this pepper is used in salsas, marinades and adobo sauce.
  2. Smoked Pimenton (Spanish paprika): A smoked version of Spanish paprika, it is sold in mild or hot varieties. It is a notable feature of chorizo sausage and in paella. A very fruity and smoked taste.


Hélène Laurendeau

A nutrition and health enthusiast who loves to share: this description fits Hélène Laurendeau to a tee. She has been active for more than 25 years in the media and communications field. Nutritionist, host, columnist, author and speaker, Hélène holds a Bachelor degree in Nutrition and a Master degree in Epidemiology. She has spread her knowledge alongside Ricardo every week since 2005, as part of his daily show broadcast on ICI Radio-Canada Télé, as well as in Ricardo magazine, where she pens the Bien se nourrir (Eating Well) column.