The chile was named a ‘pepper’ by Christopher Columbus during a Caribbean exploration when he assumed, based on the spicy taste, it was related to black pepper. Soon after Columbus brought them home to Spain, they were being cultivated from Africa and India to Asia and the Middle East.
There are hundreds of types, all part of the Capsicum genus. The five species of domesticated chili peppers are divided into three main groupings: bell peppers, sweet peppers, and hot peppers. Common varieties include red or green bell peppers, jalapeños, and Anaheim, as well as the lesser-known naga and piri-piri.
The heat, which is most potent in the seeds and white pith, comes from capsaicin, a powerful antioxidant phytochemical associated with many health benefits. Chili peppers are especially high in vitamin C, providing more than 100% of the recommended daily value in just one tiny pepper.
According to a study published last year in the journal Annals of Medicine and Surgery, which analyzed nearly 7,000 studies that included more than 570,000 people, those who consumed chiles had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular and cancer-related deaths compared to people who didn’t consume them.