Chilli, or Capsicum, is a plant belonging to the Solanaceae family. Its name derives from the Latin term capsa which means box, to indicate its function of collecting the seeds present inside the fruit.

The genus Capsicum consists of about thirty-seven species which include the wild, the semi-domestic and the five species domestic more well-known C. annuum, C. baccatum, C. chinense, C. frutescens and C. putescens, all very different from each other in type of flower, fruit, color as well as in spiciness. Among these, the most commercially widespread species is Capsicum annuum.

Chilli pepper is a plant grown all over the world even though it was originally present only in Central and South America. It was brought by Christopher Columbus to the old continent, where he found a perfect climate in which to grow.

The presence of carotenoids, the content of which changes according to the degree of ripeness of the fruit, gives the chili pepper its characteristic color ranging from yellow, to green, to dark red, to purple.

The spiciness is due to the presence, inside, of the capsaicin, an alkaloid substance (with formula 8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide or C18H27NO3) produced by the glands contained in the internal part of the fruit to which the seeds are attached (placenta). The amount of capsaicin varies according to the variety of plant; it is able to interact with proteins (receptors) present in the mouth, stomach and anus, producing the typical sense of burning.

The spiciness of chillies is measured by the Scoville scale, invented by the American chemist Wilbur Scoville, who classifies the various species of chilli based on their degree of spiciness.


Chilli is a spice commonly used in kitchens all over the world, especially in the countries of Asia, the Mediterranean and South America for its unique flavor, both spicy, sweet and, of course, spicy. Because of this pungent characteristic. , consumers are divided equally between those who love it and those who hate it.

In Italy Capsicum annuum, especially the Cayenna subspecies, is mainly used in the cuisine of the southern areas of the country where it is mostly eaten dry, fresh or smoked, adding it to dishes to flavor them. For some years now, as a result of globalization, the use of tabasco (belonging to the frutescens species) and paprika (a product of chilli pepper processing) has also become part of our cuisine. Chilli-based oils are very popular. used as a condiment for various dishes, as well as other food products containing chilli: for example, chocolates, cheeses, sauces and sauces of various types.

Paprika and its derivative, oleoresin, are also used as natural dyes in foods and in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products.


From the food composition tables compiled by the Council for Agricultural Research and Analysis of the Agricultural Economy (CREA), 100 grams of fresh chilli contain very few calories, many minerals and vitamins and some polyphenols, such as luteolin (1.89 milligrams per 100 grams of fresh chili) e quercetin (2.92 milligrams per 100 grams of fresh chilli), both belonging to the class of flavonoids, molecules that perform beneficial activities for health.

Composition Contained in 100g of chilli
Water (grams, g) 91,8
Energy (Kcal) 30
Energy (kJ) 125
Protein (g) 1,8
Lipids (g) 0,5
Cholesterol (mg) 0
Available carbohydrates (g) 3,8
Starch (g) 2,1
Soluble sugars (g) 1,5
Alcohol (g) 0
Total fiber (g) 2
Sodium (mg) 7
Potassium (mg) 230
Calcium (mg) 18
Phosphorus (mg) 18
Iron (mg) 0,5
Thiamine (mg) 0,09
Riboflavin (mg) 0,23
Niacin (mg) 3
Vitamin C (mg) 229
Vitamin A, IU 10
β-carotene (μg) 1179
Vitamin E (μg) 0,69
Vitamin K (μg) 14,3

Between a fresh pepper and a dried pepper there may be some differences in the concentration of the substances present due to the different water content, as happens for example with capsaicin.

The peppers that are intended for drying are generally made to ripen completely before undergoing this process, therefore they have a high concentration of capsaicin at the start which determines a high degree of spiciness at the end of the drying.


Thanks to its content in components that can play a positive role on health (bioactive components), different actions have been attributed to chilli:

  • analgesic
  • antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes
  • anti-obesity 
  • photoprotective, against the damage induced by ultraviolet radiation
  • antimicrobial, able to fight and prevent infections
  • regulator of intestinal microbial composition
  • anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor, because it reduces the formation of new blood vessels needed by the tumor to grow (angiogenesis)
  • favoring the absorption of micronutrients, such as vitamins

Regular consumption of hot peppers is associated with a lower risk of myocardial infarction and the onset of cerebrovascular diseases; however, it should be remembered that the beneficial properties highlighted in scientific studies refer to the active ingredients contained in chilli, such as capsaicin, most often administered in the form of an extract and not as a simple food. This means that the amount of active ingredient taken with regular consumption of chili in the kitchen may not have the same health effects.

Indications and contraindications

Chilli, especially in the spicier forms, is extremely irritating; you must therefore take care to wash your hands thoroughly after handling it, to avoid contaminating other areas of the body such as, for example, eyes and nose.

To relieve the burning sensation in the mouth, one of the best ways is to drink milk or eat yogurt. In fact, casein, present in dairy products, binds capsaicin, removing it from the receptors present on the mucosa. When the painful sensation is acute, however, it is advisable to use ice as an anesthetic.

Recent studies have suggested a relationship between the intake of high doses of capsaicin through the habitual consumption of spicy foods and the risk of developing stomach cancer in men, but not in women.

The consumption of hot peppers is not recommended in case you follow specific nutritional regimes for the treatment of esophageal, gastric and intestinal diseases. It is recommended to consume it carefully in case of stomach acid, gastroesophageal reflux disease, gastritis, ulcer, irritable bowel, hemorrhoids and anal fissures.

Spicy types of chilli peppers are generally not recommended under two years of age, because children do not have an adequately developed digestive system and would risk facing serious problems. Even during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as no specific studies on tolerability are available, the consumption of chili peppers is not recommended.

Chilli and chilli products should in no way be considered a miracle food to be used as a substitute for drugs, especially in the presence of overt illnesses. Its use must be considered as part of a balanced and balanced diet to provide the body with all the nutrients and micronutrients it needs without exceeding the consumption of some foods at the expense of others.


Hassan NM, Yusof NA, Yahaya AF et al. Carotenoids of Capsicum Fruits: Pigment Pro fi le and Health-Promoting Functional Attributes. Antioxidants. 2019; 8: 469

Wang Y, Tang C, Tang Y et al. Capsaicin has an anti-obesity effect through alterations in gut microbiota populations and short-chain fatty acid concentrations. Food & Nutrition Research. 2020; 64: 3525

Friedman JR, Nolan NA, Brwon KC et al. Anticancer Activity of Natural and Synthetic Capsaicin Analogs. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. 2018; 364: 462-473

Chen YH, Zou XN, Zheng TZ et al. High Spicy Food Intake and Risk of Cancer: A Meta ‑ analysis of Case – control Studies. Chinese Medical Journal. 2017; 130: 2241-2250

Further links

Council for Agricultural Research and Analysis of the Agricultural Economy (CREA). Food and Nutrition

Food and Nutrition Research Center (CREA). Food Nutrition

Phenol-Explorer. Chili pepper [red], row (English)

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