Nightshade usually has one connotation to people—deadly nightshade—and the idea of chile being related to that poisonous plant seems silly. However, chile peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos and a number of other commonly eaten fruits and vegetables are all part of the nightshade family. And one of the newer diet trends popping up is avoiding nightshade products out of supposed health concerns. With chile in that list of products, could this hurt the chile industry?
Is Chile Dangerous?
The nightshade family does contain a dangerous plant, but the difference between a poison and a medicine is in dosage. Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) has been used in medicine for centuries as a pain reliever, muscle relaxer and anti-inflammatory. Chile contains the alkaloid capsaicin, vitamin C, vitamin A and other necessary nutrients.
Concern about the nightshade family seems to specifically focus on potatoes, tomatoes and the glycoalkaloids that they contain. These alkaloids have the ability to damage cell membranes, and excessive levels of them in the body can cause health problems. Chile peppers, however, contain capsaicinoids; levels of glycoalkaloids in jalapenos, green chile, bell peppers and other types of chiles aren’t even listed in the chile’s nutritional values.
What Does This Mean for Chile?
Although diet trends can lead to some individuals avoiding certain foods, such as potatoes, this anti-nightshades trend won’t heavily impact the chile industry. Very few people know that chile peppers are part of the nightshade family. Chile peppers contain capsaicinoids and that substance outweighs the negligible amount of glycoalkaloid that’s present.
Chile peppers also offer a variety of health benefits and provide flavor that no other plant can. With the popularity of spicy dishes across the country and worldwide, it’s highly unlikely that worry over a particular alkaloid in chile will cause any significant impact on the chile industry. People are still going to want green chile enchiladas, and the Chile Guy will still provide the freshest frozen green chile available.