By Jiya Valiram
The chilli, a berry-fruit belonging to the Capsicum family, originated in South America but today you can find it all over the world. It was adapted to the Malaysian tropical climate decades ago and now, chillies add a pungent heat to almost every Malaysian dish from curries to nasi lemak (DAHIR et al., 2014). High in vitamins A, B, C, E, and other essential minerals, amino acids, and micronutrients, the chilli offers many health benefits (Khiar Saleh, Omer, and Teweldemedhin, 2018). However, the plant can be subjected to attack from many diseases and pests.
The chilli has many therapeutic properties and even in old civilizations such as the Mayans and Aztecs, it was used to treat asthma, coughs, sore throats, and toothaches (Khiar Saleh, Omer and Teweldemedhin, 2018). Additionally, studies have linked the chilli to many health benefits such as fighting inflammation, clearing congestion, boosting immunity, improving cardiovascular health, helping with weight loss, and cancer protection (DAHIR et al., 2014). A study by the British Medical Journal found a correlation between the consumption of spicy foods and mortality risk, concluding that people who ate spicy foods 6-7 days a week reduced their mortality risk by 14% (Khiar Saleh, Omer and Teweldemedhin, 2018). Another experiment on Caucasian males showed that a post-breakfast snack containing 6g of hot peppers decreased their intake during lunch, effectively regulating their body weight (R. Cronin, 2002).
Research has also shown that over two billion people are deficient in important minerals and vitamins such as zinc, iodine, vitamin A, and iron due to inadequate dietary intake (L. Olatunji and J. Afolayan, 2018). The chilli pepper is also an excellent source of vitamins A, B, C, and E. Chillies contain more vitamin A than carrots (Saxena, Raghuwanshi, Kumar Gupta and B. Singh, 2016). This berry-fruit is also rich in antioxidants and essential micronutrients like potassium, magnesium, iron, and calcium (Khiar Saleh, Omer and Teweldemedhin, 2018). The chilli’s high nutritional content can help reduce human micronutrient deficiencies which ranks as one of the most predominant health conditions of the 21st century which causes chronic diseases (L. Olatunji and J. Afolayan, 2018).
The recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin A for men and women are 900μg and 700μg, respectively. Table 1 shows that the chilli contains 45μg of vitamin A which provides 5% of men’s necessary intake and about 6.4% of women’s. The recommended RDI of vitamin C for men and women 90 mg and 75 mg, respectively. Based on Table 1, we can see that the chilli exceeds the necessary consumption of vitamin C for both men and women (L. Olatunji and J. Afolayan, 2018). In addition, the mineral salts content present in the chilli pods supplies 3% of iron, 6% of magnesium, 2% of phosphorus, and 7% of potassium of the required RDI in the human diet (Table 2) (Ramalho do Rego, Luiz Finger and Monteiro do Rego, 2012).
Viruses, diseases, and fungal infections
The chilli is vulnerable to as many as 26 fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases (DAHIR et al., 2014). Typical diseases include anthracnose, bacterial wilt, cercospora leaf spot, powdery mildew, and damping-off (Thangjam, Tampakleima Chanu and Mayanglambam, 2020). Apart from diseases, insect pests such as aphids, thrips, armyworms, and broad mites also hamper chilli production. Weeds, pests, and diseases have contributed to 26-40% of chilli yield losses despite protection measures taken by farmers. Crop harvests are affected by these diseases and pest attacks more frequently in tropical parts of the world as lower-income farmers have limited management options and lack knowledge on how to treat these crops (Hayat Md Saiful Islam, Schreinemachers and Kumar, 2020).
Anthracnose is a fungal disease that infects the soil and as a result, the plants that grow in the soil suffer the same fate. The crops are usually infected by this fungal disease when the crops are in their flowering stage (Thangjam, Tampakleima Chanu and Mayanglambam, 2020). This disease not only infects the chilli plants but also other fruits and vegetables, posing a threat to the farmer’s income and the country’s economy. A common symptom of anthracnose on the chilli fruit are concentric rings which turn brown then black. This can cause other infections which are hazardous to human health if consumed. In a poll taken of 260 chilli pepper farmers in Bangladesh, 82% reported that the effectiveness of chemical pesticides against anthracnose has reduced over time (Hayat Md Saiful Islam, Schreinemachers and Kumar, 2020).
Cercospora leaf spot is another fungal disease that produces brown spots with diameters up to 1cm or more on the leaves of chilli plants. A severely affected leaf can drop off prematurely resulting in a decreased yield. The fungus lives in seeds and crop residue meaning, that crops infected with this disease must be removed and burnt (Thangjam, Tampakleima Chanu and Mayanglambam, 2020).
Bacterial wilt cause plants to die and can result in a significant loss of 15% to 55% of the crop grown. Protection measures against this bacterial disease, such as the application of synthetic pesticides, field sanitation, and crop rotation, have proven to enjoy limited success (YANTI, FEBRIA ASTUTI, HABAZAR and RAHMAN NASUTION, 2017).
The consumption of the chilli pepper has proven to have many therapeutic and nutritional properties vital to the human diet. An increased intake might not eliminate all health conditions but it can reduce the risk of getting certain diseases and better one’s overall health.
Table 1 Nutritional composition of hot Capsicum annuum per 100g (L. Olatunji and J. Afolayan, 2018)
Table 2 Mineral content in Capsicum annuum (L. Olatunji and J. Afolayan, 2018)
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