Peppers are the second-most commonly eaten fruit on the planet, and it is not hard to see why.
For some reason, the humble garden variety is known to be a good source of protein and fibre.
But for others, it is also an easy source of flavour, colour and aroma.
A recent report by the University of Adelaide found that, out of the more than 300 varieties of peppers on sale, just 10 were as high in fibre content as those in the UK.
In Australia, the vast majority of peppers come from the southern and eastern parts of the country, but a number of varieties are grown in other parts of Australia as well.
So, what are the real claims made about the health benefits of peppers?
A recent article in the journal Agricultural and Food Chemistry (ABAC) concluded that the nutritional value of peppercorns is largely unknown.
The research team, led by Dr Andrew Giddings from the Australian National University, studied the effects of a range of peppers including a variety called the Cucurbita, the Chicha and the Black Pepper.
It was found that the flavour of the pepper was not as rich as that of the fruit, but that there was no difference in the amount of the amino acid phenylalanine.
Dr Gidding explained:The study showed that the amount and variety of flavonoids and peptides in a variety is not a reliable indicator of the health effects of that particular variety.
The most likely explanation is that the effects observed for the CUC (compound carbohydrate) of the Black pepper are due to its higher relative abundance of carnitine, a precursor of glutathione, which is thought to play a role in the regulation of cell membrane integrity.
While the research was limited, Dr Gidders said it was not definitive proof that the carnitines were the reason for the high levels of flavanoids and phenyls found in peppercorn products.
Dr Robert Schofield from the University, told ABC News: I don’t think there is any real scientific basis for that.
But the point is, we need to know if there are any adverse effects on the body of those consuming the peppers.
Dr Schofolds said he believed the higher level of flavans in the pepper would have an impact on the amount or quantity of amino acids.
He added that peppercons were the least likely to be eaten by people in the Western world.
Professor James McKeown, an expert in food chemistry at the University’s Food and Agricultural Sciences Department, said he thought the researchers were correct in their conclusion that there were no differences in the health of consumers.
But he said that the research also suggested that the higher levels of the carninine in the Black peppercorne did seem to be beneficial for the body, and the researchers had not yet identified the source of the increase in carninines.
He said the researchers could be looking at the effect of eating a wider variety of the pepperco, rather than the one they were testing.
He explained:It is a bit of a chicken and egg situation, because you’re looking at a bunch of different things.
One would be the different plantings and cultivars that are available, which you might want to look at in terms of the levels of other antioxidants and other compounds in the fruit.
So what the researchers have done is looked at a very broad range of plants, and there is a very clear range of different cultivars available.
So you could look at different types of peppers that you’re growing in a greenhouse, or you could go and look at a variety of peppers grown at home and see if you can find any particular differences.
The team’s findings, he said, would not necessarily be the end of the world.
They have to be replicated, he told the ABC, and that would depend on how long they are growing peppers, as well as the quality of the cultivars.
Dr McKeowens told ABC Radio National that the results from the study could help inform future research into the health risks associated with eating pepperconuts.
He pointed out that the studies showed that high levels were not associated with health problems.
However, he cautioned that more research would be needed before a definitive conclusion could be drawn.
Dr Mascara said the research had a major impact on how we think about and understand the health claims made by the food industry.
She said:I think that the conclusions that were made in this study are really important, because they give us a really clear picture of what are some of the potential health effects.
She added:We need to be very cautious in the use of the word ‘carnitine’, because we’re still working out exactly what it is.
The study was funded by the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture.