Canadian Pizza Magazine

Find flavour and function with spices

Brandi Cowen   

Features In the Kitchen Ingredients

These mighty spices add a healthy kick and zip to your pies

The spices that give your pies their special kick may also pack a functional punch.

The spices that give your pies their special kick may also pack a functional punch. Flavourful seasonings such as black pepper, cayenne pepper and chili peppers have been linked to a variety of health benefits, including lowering high cholesterol, reducing inflammation, killing cancer cells, improving digestive health and assisting in weight loss. Regardless of your customer demographics, odds are there’s something functional in the pepper family that will appeal to the health-conscious pizza lover.

The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin is present. Capsaicin has also shown promise in combating disease.


Capsaicin (pronounced cap-say-a-sin) is the active component that gives cayenne,
chili and other hot peppers their bite.


The health benefits associated with this functional component of hot peppers are varied. In animal studies, capsaicin has been linked to decreased blood levels of low-density lypoprotein (often referred to as “bad” cholesterol) and increased high-density lypoprotein (or “good” cholesterol) in the bloodstream, according to the Medical Journal of Australia. That same publication also reports that capsaicin is a natural anti-inflammatory that inhibits the body’s responses to internal stimuli that can cause inflammation. This property of capsaicin offers a natural treatment for bursitis, arthritis and other conditions characterized by inflammation. Moreover, capsaicin can alleviate everything from the pain of a simple headache to chronic back pain.

Capsaicin has also shown promise in combating disease. A 2007 study led by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s department of pharmacology found that the capsaicin that makes chili pepper hot causes pancreatic cancer cells to die.

In 2008, The journal Apoptosis reported that mice grafted with human pancreatic tumours, and treated with capsaicin, developed tumours half the size of those found in mice treated with saline. The capsaicin-treated mice also demonstrated higher levels of proteins associated with apoptosis, the process by which the body disposes of cells that are either damaged or unnecessary. In cancer cells, apoptosis is usually defective, which allows these damaged cells to survive and multiply unchecked.

The amount of capsaicin in various types of peppers is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU). While assorted varieties of chili peppers can be found across a wide swath of the Scoville scale, cayenne pepper ranges between 30,000 and 50,000 SHU. The scale runs from zero to more than 16 million SHU.

In short, the hotter the pepper, the greater the amount of capsaicin present and, therefore, the greater the functional benefits to be reaped.

The substance that gives black pepper its pungency is called piperine, and studies have shown that it can help numerous ailments. It has natural antibiotic properties, which can help combat bacterial infections, and its spiciness can help reduce congestion from colds, flu and sinusitis. Like capsaicin, piperine has also been shown to act as a natural anti-inflammatory.

In a 2008 edition of the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, a daily dose of piperine was reported to have anti-depressant effects. On top of that, brain function seemed to improve as a result of regular piperine consumption. According to the research team from Thailand’s Khon Kaen University, “Piperine may be served as the potential functional food to improve brain function.” However, they noted that further research is needed to understand the mechanisms by which piperine produces these effects.

Piperine has also been shown to improve the bioavailability (the extent to which a nutrient or medication can be used by the body) of other nutrients. In a study published in the journal Nutrition Research, researchers found that in a double blind study, participants who consumed beta-carotene supplemented with piperine demonstrated “significantly greater increases” in beta-carotene levels than participants who consumed the same level of beta-carotene without a piperine supplement. These findings suggest that cooking with black pepper may improve overall health by helping the body gain greater nutritional rewards from the foods it consumes.

The list of benefits associated with spices in the pepper family is long, and the summary provided here is by no means exhaustive. Several studies have shown that black and cayenne peppers are both rich in phenols. These phenols have strong antioxidant properties, which may prevent some cancers and slow the growth of others by seeing out cancer-causing free radicals in the body and destroying them. Other research has determined that cayenne pepper may prevent stomach ulcers by killing harmful bacteria in the digestive system and stimulating the production of extra stomach mucous to protect the stomach lining from hydrochloric acid. There have also been studies linking the capsaicin in cayenne and hot pepper to healthier looking skin. In both cases, the capsaicin is believed to encourage greater blood flow to the skin.

Whether your customers are looking to better manage their weight, shake off arthritis pain, or improve their overall health, there are spices in the pepper family that can help. Why not make the most of the powers of peppers and craft a functional pie that caters to both their health and their love of pizza?

New weapon to combat Listeria in meat products
In February, Health Canada approved the sale of a new product to inhibit the growth of Listeria bacteria in packaged meat products.

Griffith Laboratories’ Micocin is derived from a strain of naturally occurring Carnobacteria maltaromaticum, a bacteria that produces an antibiotic to inhibit the growth of Listeria. Micocin is a superfine powder that is diluted in water and then deposited onto foods during packaging. Listeria cannot thrive in this environment, which results in safer food for consumers.

Griffith Laboratories’ senior vice president of new technology, David Smith, is “excited to bring this groundbreaking ingredient to the marketplace.”

Micocin is already being used in some consumer food products. In a press release, Griffith Laboratories states: “it has no effect on the flavour, texture or appearance of the products to which it is introduced, so consumers can be protected without the addition of extra chemicals or technical-sounding ingredients being added to the food label.”

The technology is being developed into a variety of products by CanBiocin, a company formed by a partnership between Griffith Laboratories and the University of Alberta.

The approval comes ahead of new federal legislation to protect Canadians from Listeria, expected to be announced on April 1. The legislation is in response to recommendations of the Weatherill Report, prepared by an independent investigator following the 2008 Listeria outbreak that killed 23 people.

The Weatherill Report offers 57 recommendations to improve the safety of ready to eat meats, including a recommendation that Health Canada “review its approval processes and fast track, where appropriate, new food additives and technologies that have the potential to contribute to food safety giving particular attention to those that have been scientifically validated in other jurisdictions (provinces or countries).”

Micocin has already been granted Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status in the United States, and is approved in Mexico, Costa Rica and Colombia. 

Print this page


Stories continue below