Is a red chili a fruit, a vegetable, or something else? This may seem like a simple question, but the answer is more complex than you might think.
Chili peppers (including red ones) come from the berry family and are technically fruits rather than vegetables. But in the kitchen, chilies are considered vegetables because of their many savory uses.
As you read, we’ll answer answer this in more detail, plus:
- Exactly how hot is a red chili pepper?
- What are the different types of red chili pepper?
- How do cooks use red chili peppers?
What Is A Red Chili Pepper?
Red chili peppers, also known as red pepper, are a type of chili pepper characterized by their red color and fiery, pungent flavor. These are berry-fruit of plants from the Capsicum genus and are part of the nightshade family Solanaceae.
Chili peppers are thought to have originated in Central or South America and were initially grown in Mexico. In the centuries following the Columbian Exchange (1492), numerous chili pepper cultivars (i.e. bred varieties) found their way worldwide, quickly becoming a staple in cuisine and folk medicine.
While many chili peppers are red, not all red ones are the same. Chili peppers come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and heat levels. Some of the most popular types include jalapenos, habaneros, and serranos.
Taste and Heat Level
Red chilies are known for their fiery, pungent flavor and are used in many dishes to add heat and depth of flavor. They are popular due to their distinct flavor, but they also cause a burning feeling in your mouth.
The Scoville scale is a measure of the spiciness of chili peppers, and it applies to all types of chili peppers, including red chili peppers. Red chili peppers can have a wide range of Scoville ratings depending on the specific variety.
The Scoville scale ranges from 0 Scoville Heat Units (SHUs) for a bell pepper all the way up to 16,000,000 SHUs for pure capsaicin (the stuff that gives peppers their heat).
Some common red chili peppers and their approximate Scoville ratings include:
- Serrano pepper: 10,000-25,000
- Cayenne pepper: 30,000-50,000
- Tabasco pepper: 30,000-50,000
- Pequin pepper: 30,000-50,000
- Thai pepper: 50,000-100,000
- Bird’s eye chili: 100,000-225,000
- Red Savina habanero: 350,000 – 580,000
It is important to keep in mind that the Scoville rating of a pepper can change depending on a variety of factors, including the growing conditions and the level of maturity.
Is a Red Chili a Fruit, A Vegetable, or Something Else?
Despite its fiery reputation, the red chili is actually a fruit. Some may be surprised, as chilies are typically classified as vegetables due to their culinary versatility. However, red chilies are technically classified as berries in the plant kingdom.
Botanists employ a classification system based on the plant’s physiological features, such as structure, function, and organization. Note that fruit is the fully developed ovary of a flowering plant. On the other hand, a vegetable is any edible part of a plant that is not a fruit. This includes leaves, stems, roots, and bulbs.
Hence, red chili is a fruit because it is the mature ovary of the chili plant, which contains seeds. Furthermore, this confusion is common to chilies, as other plants such as tomatoes, pumpkins, eggplants, and cucumbers are also classified as fruits but are commonly considered vegetables.
For every 1 tablespoon (15 grams) of raw, fresh, red chili peppers, these are the nutrients you can get:
- Calories: 6 kcal
- Protein: 0.3 grams
- Carbs: 1.3 grams
- Sugar: 0.8 grams
- Fiber: 0.2 grams
- Fat: 0.1 grams
Furthermore, these spicy red chilis can provide vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B6, potassium, and copper.
Fun fact: Despite their heat, red chili peppers are 88% water!
Recall that red chilies contain the chemical known as capsaicin, a compound that gives chilies their heat. Studies have shown that capsaicin has several potential positive health effects, including lowering inflammation and suppressing hunger.
Because of their purported anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, chilies are often employed in alternative medicine. They also alleviate pain associated with several conditions, such as migraines, indigestion, and muscle pains.
History of Red Chili Use in Cooking
Chili peppers have a long history of culinary use; archaeological excavations in Mexico have uncovered evidence of chili use as far back as 7500 BC! They’ve been around for a long time and are a staple ingredient in preparing various regional specialties, such as those of the Mexican, Indian, and Chinese kitchens.
How Are Chili Peppers Used In Cooking?
In the kitchen, chili peppers are classified as vegetables because they are often used as savory ingredients rather than a sweet standalone treat. On the other hand, they can be used as a fruit in various sweet and savory recipes.
Chili peppers are used to spice up and enhance the flavor of food in various cuisines. They are versatile and can be utilized in many forms, such as
Using red chili as a vegetable
As an integral part of classics like chili con carne, mole, and curry, chili peppers are also used in a wide variety of other meals, including
- Spice rubs
- Sandwiches and burgers
In addition to being used as a condiment, chili peppers can flavor oils, butter, and other fats used in cooking.
Using red chili as a fruit
There are different ways to use red chili pepper as a fruit. Some ideas include:
- Jams and jellies
- Savory baked goods
It is essential to remember that red chili peppers contain capsaicin, a compound that can create a stinging or burning feeling on the skin and the eyes. Wear protective gloves or wash your hands thoroughly after handling them.
Frequently Asked Questions
Red chili pepper can have anywhere from 10,000 to over a million Scoville heat units, which indicates that it has the potential to be very spicy.
The heat and flavor of a jalapeno pepper increases with age, but at a maximum of 8,000 Scoville Heat Units, it packs a punch, but not one that is overpowering. Red chili peppers can get much, much hotter. For example, a serrano pepper can reach 25,000 and a cayenne pepper can reach 50,000. And they’re not even close to being the hottest peppers the brave among us can try!
Red chili powders and cayenne pepper have a lot in common but are not the same thing. Cayenne powder is manufactured from the cayenne pepper (which is one type of red chili), while red chili powder is made from a combination of other chili peppers. Many people find that cayenne pepper is spicier than different types of chili powder.
The capsaicin in red chili peppers acts as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic. Studies have found that they can help with everything from losing weight to protecting your heart from disease, warding off cancer, and alleviating chronic pain. But we’ll leave the health debates to the scientists and doctors!
To sum up, despite its widespread use as a vegetable, a red chili is a fruit. As a mature ovary of a blooming plant, its botanical definition categorizes it as such. It’s a staple in many classic cuisines thanks to its versatility in savory meals and numerous health advantages.