The use of spices in prepared foods is very popular within certain cultures, and most of the world’s countries have dishes that incorporate many varieties of peppers.
What Is Capsaicin?
Capsicum annum is the most widely cultivated pepper in the world and practically all of the commercially available fresh, dried and processed peppers belong to this species. Cayenne pepper is the ground, dried ripe fruit of Capsicum annum varieties.1
Capsicum and related species contain 1% - 2% naturally occurring phenolic alkaloids by dry weight, collectively known as Capsaicinoids.2 Capsaicin, Dihydrocapsaicin and Nordihydrocapsaicin comprise approximately 95% of the total level of Capsaicinoids.3 These compounds are potent irritants to the mucous membranes and are needed only in low concentrations to produce the desired pungency as food ingredients. Pungency is the ability to produce a sensation of “heat”, and Cayenne is commonly referred to as a “hot” flavor. The most familiar effect to consumers of spicy food is a body heat loss due to sweating. That effect could explain why people in hot climates like eating “hot” food. Most Capsicum products - including cayenne pepper - are traded on the basis of their pungency, related to the amount of Capsaicinoids they contain.
The food industry has traditionally preferred the sensory (organoleptic) method as a part of its quality control to measure directly the levels of “heat” in peppers. The Scoville Organoleptic Test requires a panel of five individuals tasting pepper extract solutions that are progressively more diluted until a level is reached at which the tasters could no longer detect any “heat”. The greater the dilution needed to reach this point, the “hotter” the pepper and the higher its score on the Scoville scale. Scoville Heat Units (SHU) can range from a score of zero for a sweet bell pepper that contains no Capsaicinoids at all (no heat is detectable, even if undiluted) to over 350,000 for the hottest Habanero varieties, indicating that their extract has to be diluted 350,000-fold before the Capsaicinoids present are undetectable. The weakness of the Scoville method is its imprecision, because it relies on human subjectivity and depends on the taster’s response to the pungent chemicals.4
In recent decades several instrumental analytical methods have become available for the identification and quantification of Capsaicinoids, with High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) considered the most reliable, selective and rapid method.2 Using HPLC we can measure individual Capsaicinoids amounts in micrograms (mg) per gram of pepper weight, equivalent to “parts per million” (ppm). A Capsaicinoids concentration of one ppm corresponds to 15 SHUs.5
Capsaicin has strong physiological and pharmacological properties6 and the US Pharmacopoeia has a medical monograph for it.7 Capsicum fruit products are used not only as a flavoring agent, producing increased stomach acid secretion,8 but also as a therapeutic agent, especially in the form of extractives containing high levels of Capsaicin. Used in the diet, even at low levels, Capsaicinoids may support cholesterol levels already within the normal range and support a healthy platelet aggregation.9
Capsaicin affects physiological pathways involved in the perception of temperature and pain by interacting with sensory neurons. Capsaicin first activates the pain receptors, but upon repeated application to the skin desensitizes these receptors and relieves the pain. It is used topically to relieve minor, temporary pain due to normal exertion, 10 including for joints.11
To assure the quality of our Cayenne pepper NOW Foods QC (Quality Control) laboratory has adopted and uses the official, validated AOAC (Association of Official Analytical Chemists) method which allows us to calculate HPLC results directly in Scoville Heat Units.12, 13
NOW Foods Cayenne pepper contains Cayenne powder (Capsicum annum L.) with a potency range of between 40,000 and 57,000 Scoville Heat Units. The authenticity of the ingredient and its potency is confirmed by a validated, official HPLC method.
1 Merck Index 13, 1776
2 Perucka, I., Oleszek, W., Extraction and determination of capsaicinoids in fruit of hot pepper Capsicum annum L. by spectrophotometry and high-performance liquid chromatography. Food Chem. 71, 287-291 (2000); and references cited herein.
3 Estrada, B., et al., Capsaicinoids in vegetative organs of Capsicum annum L. in relation to fruiting. J.Agric.Food Chem. 50, 1188-1191 (2002); and references cited herein.
4 Scoville, W.L., Note Capsicum. J.Amer.Pharm. Assn. 1, 453 (1912)
5 Collins, M.D., et al., Improved method for quantifying Capsaicinoids in Capsicum using High Performance Liquid Chromatography. Hort. Science 30(1), 137-139 (1995)
6 Robbins, W., Clinical application of capsaicinoids. Clinical Journal of Pain, 16(2), 86-89 (2000)
7 Capsaicin, Capsicum, Capsicum Oleoresin; USP 28, Official Monographs, 236-237 (2005)
8 Myers, B., et al. Effect of red and black pepper on the stomach, Am. J. Gastrioenterol. 82, 211-214 (1987)
9 Hogaboam, C.M., et al., Inhibition of platelet aggregation by capsaicin. An effect unrelated to actions on sensory afferent neurons. European Journal of Pharmacology 202, 129131 (1991)
10 Markovits, E., et al. Capsaicin – an effective topical treatment in pain, International Journal of Dermatology 36, 401-404 (1997)
11 Altman, R.D., et al. Arthritis Rheum. 23, 25 (1994)
12 AOAC Official Method 995.03 Capsaicinoids in Capsicum and their extractives. AOAC Official Methods of Analysis, 17th Edition, 43, 14-16 (2000)
13 Parrish, M., Liquid Chromatographic method for determining Capsaicinoids in Capsicums and their extractives: Collaborative study. Journal of Association of Official Analytical Chemists (AOAC) International, 79, 738-745 (1996)