Peppers   

Peppers are one of the nightshade vegetables.  (Tomatoes, Eggplant, and Potatoes are also nightshade vegetables.)   Nightshade fruits and vegetables belong to the family of Solanaceae plants of the Solanum genus.  Some people are sensitive to nightshade plants and are unable to digest them fully.  People who are allergic may experience diarrhea, gas, bloating, nausea, painful joints, headaches, and depression.

Whether spicy or sweet, peppers contain many phytochemicals, the naturally occurring compounds found in plants. Many of peppers' phytochemicals have antioxidant abilities. This means they can help neutralize free-radicals in the body, which damage cells.  They're one of the richest sources of vitamins A and C.  They also contain capsaicin which produced the heat.   Capsaicin is a flavorless, odorless, colorless antioxidant found in varying amounts in peppers.  Fiery habaneros contain the most, jalapeños have some, and bell peppers have none.  The more capsaicin, the hotter the pepper, the higher the antioxidant level.  

Peppers are often used in ethnic dishes from Mexico, the American Southwest, India, and Asia, each using local varieties to complement their national cuisine.

  • The most commonly sold pepper in the U.S. is the bell pepper.  Bell peppers are mild or sweet and can be green, red, yellow, orange, or purple.
  • The "hotness” of peppers is measured according to the Scoville Heat Scale, a measurement of heat units produced from the capsaicin concentration.
  • The mildest peppers, such as sweet bell peppers and cherry peppers, are at the bottom of the Scoville scale.
  • In the middle are peppers like jalapeño, serrano, yellow hot wax peppers, and red cayenne peppers.
  • At the top of the scale are the habanero and the Scotch Bonnet.

A note about Chipotle peppers.  This name applies to a smoking process to dry peppers.  The resulting peppers are commonly sold in a can or jar.  Mature jalapeños are smoke-dried, making them significantly hotter than the immature green pepper.  Chipotles enhance and impart a smoky flavor to food.

Why This Matters:

Peppers and tomatoes are members of the nightshade vegetables.  Some customers are sensitive to these vegetables and may not digest them fully.  Their sensitivity to peppers may depend on the types and heat.  It is important that store staff is aware of the different peppers and their varying heat so they can correctly advise customers if there is an inquiry.  Some stores post a Scoville Heat chart showing pictures of the peppers along with their corresponding heat index number.

Tomatoes

There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes, including heirloom tomatoes which have become very popular in natural food stores and farmers' markets.   Tomatoes contain all four major carotenoids: alpha- and beta-carotene (which has Vitamin A activity in the body), lutein, and lycopene, Vitamin E, and Vitamin C.  A diet rich in tomato-based products may help reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer, according to a study from The University of Montreal.  Tomatoes contain all three high-powered antioxidants: beta-carotene (which has Vitamin A activity in the body).   Tomatoes are also rich in potassium.  A cup of tomato juice contains 534 milligrams of potassium, and a 1/2 cup of tomato sauce has 454 milligrams. 

Tomatoes are a big part of the famously healthy Mediterranean diet.  Many Mediterranean dishes and recipes call for tomatoes, tomato paste, or sauce.   Some recent studies, including one from The University of Athens Medical School, have found that people who most closely follow the Mediterranean diet have lower death rates from heart disease and cancer.   Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, who followed more than 39,000 women for seven years, found that consumption of oil- and tomato-based products -- particularly tomato and pizza sauce -- was associated with cardiovascular benefits.

  • Tomatoes are actually a fruit and not a vegetable.  
  • Tomatoes contain among the highest amount of lycopene in plants. Research shows that the lycopene in cooked tomatoes helps to neutralize free-radicals and that the concentration is increased when tomatoes are processed into other foods, such as ketchup, tomato sauce, and soup.
  • An heirloom is generally considered to be a variety that has been passed down through several generations of a family because of its valued characteristics. Since 'heirloom' varieties have become popular in the past few years there have been liberties taken with the use of this term for commercial purposes.
  • Every heirloom variety is genetically unique and inherent in this uniqueness, is an evolved resistance to pests and diseases, and an adaptation to specific growing conditions and climates.
  • The multitude of heirlooms that had adapted to survive well for hundreds of years were lost or replaced by fewer hybrid tomatoes, which were bred for their commercially attractive characteristics.  Many believe that with the reduction in genetic diversity, food production is drastically at risk from plant epidemics and infestation by pests.

Why This Matters:

Tomatoes provide high amounts of potassium and lycopene, two of the most important nutrients for human health.  There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes, but with the reduction in genetic diversity, tomato production is at risk for plant epidemics and pest infestation. This is referred to as genetic erosion.  Heirloom tomatoes have recently grown in demand due to their unique flavors, nutrients and resistance to pests.

 
 

Words to Remember

CAPSAICIN

Are compounds found in the placental white fleshy membrane inside chili peppers that makes them hot. The seeds become pungent and hot from contact with the membrane. It is insoluble in water, tasteless and odorless.

 

PHYTOCHEMICALS

Another word for phytonutrients, the natural chemicals found in plants that help protect the plants from germs, fungi, bugs, and other threats. When people consume plant foods, the consumed phytonutrients help prevent disease and keep the body working correctly.

 

THE SCOVILLE HEAT SCALE

Was developed by Wilbur Scoville, a chemist, in 1912 to measure the heat level of different chili's. The heat generated from the plant chemical is broken down into Scoville Units; the higher number of Units, the hotter the chili pepper. For instance, Habanero peppers can run from 100,000 to 500,000 units, whereas a Pepperoncini can have 10 - 100.