Red pepper and black pepper are used as spices in cuisines around the world. However, the two are not related. Black pepper comes from the Piper nigrum plant. Red pepper refers to peppers of the Capsicum family such as cayenne and chili peppers. Black and red pepper may offer different health benefits.
Both black and red pepper have a long history of medicinal use. Ancient Indian and Chinese healers used black pepper to treat illnesses and conditions including toothaches, sunburn, constipation, diarrhea, insomnia and lung disease. Chinese and Indian physicians used red pepper as a treatment for stomach pain and ulcers. European herbalists in the 17th century believed that it could cure fever, chills and the common cold, notes Michael Castleman, author of "The New Healing Herbs."
Black pepper contains piperine, an alkaloid that lends heat to the berries of the Piper nigrum plant. The heat in red pepper comes from capsaicin. Both chemical compounds may trigger the production of stomach acids, which improves food digestion. The pepper may help relieve indigestion and prevent constipation. However, increased production of stomach acids, particularly hydrochloric acid, may increase the frequency and severity of heartburn, and may irritate stomach ulcers.
Black pepper may be useful for people attempting to quit smoking. Cigarette replacement devices emitting black pepper vapor may help reduce a smoker's craving for the first morning cigarette, according to New York University Langone Medical Center. However, the connection between black pepper and reduced tobacco craving has not been thoroughly studied.
Red pepper can be used for pain relief in several ways. Capsaicin may help relieve relieve diabetic neuropathy, which can cause pain in the feet, hands, arms and legs. It may also help relieve joint pain associated with osteoarthritis, a condition marked by joint inflammation and stiffness. Red pepper may also provide relief from cluster headaches, which typically produce intense pain in one side of the head. The pain-reducing benefits of red pepper may come from capsaicin's ability to interfere with Substance P, a chemical that facilitates the transmission of pain impulses to the brain.
Sweet Red Pepper
Sweet red or bell peppers also belong to the capsicum family but they are not used for the same health benefits that hot red and black pepper are used for. Sweet bell peppers are a rich source of vitamin C and fiber, providing more than 100 percent of the recommended intake of vitamin C in a 1-cup serving, and more than 10 percent of the recommended intake of fiber.