Before diving into what makes something spicy, have you ever wondered how you could tell how spicy a pepper will be? You know, before biting into it? If so, it’s time to introduce you to the Scoville heat scale! This scale measures how pungent (or hot) chile peppers are.
The Scoville scale is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU) and goes from 0 to 15,000,000. A bell pepper, for example, would come in at the bottom at 0 SHU, and pure capsaicin (which we’ll introduce later) would top this list at 15,000,000 SHU. A habanero pepper can be between 100,000 and 350,000 SHU, depending on the variety and the individual pepper. Spicy Seasoning made from these peppers can also vary greatly in heat content.
The Scoville scale can also be used to rank things like hot sauces. This can help people judge how hot a particular sauce is going to be before they put it all over their omelet at brunch with their friends. A good example of this is sriracha sauce, which comes in at around 1,000-2,500 SHU. Of course, the exact pungency of a hot sauce will depend on the specific variety of peppers used and the individual peppers used. After all, not all peppers taste exactly the same, even if they are the same type!
What Makes Spicy Things… Spicy?
Whether you’re a fan of the milder ancho peppers or the super spicy ghost peppers, you may be wondering what exactly causes peppers to be hot. The compound responsible for this heat is called capsaicin. But what is so special about capsaicin, and why does it make us feel like we’ve just taken a bite out of a bonfire?
Contrary to popular belief, eating hot peppers does not actually make your mouth “hot.” The capsaicin molecules in the pepper trigger pain receptors in your tongue, mouth, and throat. When activated, these pain receptors notify your brain, which then interprets this notification as eating something hot. Pretty cool, huh?
Health Benefits of These Spicy Ingredients in Spicy Seasoning
While capsaicin is definitely the most exciting part about chili peppers, it is important to note that, like many fruits and vegetables, these peppers contain a number of valuable nutrients in them. These include vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to function effectively, such as vitamins A and C and antioxidants.
While these nutrients can be extremely beneficial in their own ways, here, we’re going to focus on the particular benefits that capsaicin brings to the table. After all, this makes spicy foods feel hot, and it is what most current studies focus on when talking about the benefits of peppers. So, without further ado, here are some of the most commonly attributed health benefits of spicy foods.
May Increase Longevity
Many people believe that spicy foods can add more than just flavor to your life. Research over the years has found that individuals who consume spicy foods may experience longer lives than those who do not eat spicy foods.
One extensive population-based study found that individuals who habitually consumed spicy foods showed a decreased risk of mortality. The study found that individuals who consumed spicy foods 6-7 times per week displayed a 14% risk reduction of dying. Additionally, individuals who ate spicy foods just once a week saw a 10% decrease in the risk of dying.
May Promote Weight Loss
While it may seem a little silly, could the burning you feel in your mouth when you eat spicy foods also lead to burning more calories? In reality, research has shown that while capsaicin is definitely not the magical solution to preventing obesity, it may be able to promote weight loss.
Studies have found that capsaicin may offer a few benefits when it comes to weight management. These include improved metabolism (or increased energy expenditure) and reduced appetite. Anyone that has tried to eat a whole plate of Hot Wings can probably attest that there is a strong incentive to slow your roll. More studies are needed to determine how effective capsaicin is in an overall weight management program, but the current literature does note that individuals who consume capsaicin typically lose more weight or are less likely to be obese or overweight.
Boosts Your Microbiome
You may be wary of eating spicy foods if you have a sensitive stomach. But, some studies have shown that spicy foods may actually be incredibly beneficial to your digestive system. They carry antioxidants that can help aid in many digestive issues, such as intestinal gas, inflammation, and cramps.
Gut Health advocates have taught us that diversity is the key to fostering a healthy gut biome. Because capsaicin is unique to peppers, spicy seasonings can play an important role in making sure your gut biome remains diverse.
Helps Combat Migraines
Have you ever had a headache but then stubbed your toe and realized (after trying not to swear like a sailor) that your headache is gone? Too specific? Well, this situation is a demonstration of a quite common method of pain management. And no, you do not have to stub your toe to do it.
The human brain is very smart, but you can trick it a little. As we mentioned earlier, the thing that makes peppers feel hot is the capsaicin setting off pain receptors in the mouth. So, if you consume a hot pepper when experiencing pain from a migraine, the body effectively forgets about the migraine in favor of processing the new pain. This strategy works wonders for some and doesn’t work for others, so the next time you have a migraine, try biting into one of those spicy peppers your friend brought you to see if it works for you!
Improves Heart Health
Peppers are rich in capsaicin, vitamin A, and vitamin C. All of these nutrients can help improve heart health in different ways. For example, vitamins A and C can help to strengthen the muscles in your heart, while capsaicin can help increase the blood flow through your body and fight inflammation.
If you’ve ever eaten a spicy meal when you’ve been congested or sick, you know how quickly it can clear out your sinuses. But if you’ve never tried it, keep this strategy in your back pocket (along with a handkerchief) the next time you feel a cold coming on!
As with everything, moderation is key. Eating too much of anything — even something with as many health benefits as chilis — can cause more harm than good. But if you want to spice up your meals and give your body a little boost in the process, don’t hesitate to add some chili seasonings to your spice cabinet!
If you love spice and want a little bit of everything, check out our Hot & Spicy Seasoning Sampler! If you know exactly what you are looking for, or you simply want to browse through the variety of organic spices we offer, check out the FreshJax collections.
**FreshJax does not give medical advice. Please consult with your doctor or a medical professional before changing your food plan.**
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