- Researchers at Qatar University and the University of South Australia found faster cognitive decline in 4,582 Chinese adults older than 55 who regularly ate more than 1.76 ounces of chili daily, according to Science Daily. Memory loss was even greater in those who were slim, the study noted.
- The research, which spanned 15 years, found the risk of memory decline and poor cognition was nearly double for those who consumed more than that amount of chili each day. The participants ate both fresh and dried chili peppers, but not sweet capsicum or black pepper, researchers said.
- This was the first longitudinal study to look at the connection between chili consumption and cognitive function, researchers noted. They said other studies have looked at how capsaicin, the active component in chili peppers, can increase metabolism, reduce fat and limit vascular disorders.
This study could hurt the increasingly popular spice segment. The results of the research seem to be significant since researchers looked at such a large group of people during 15 years. Chili consumption is especially common in China and other Asian countries, according to Ming Li, an epidemiologist at the University of South Australia and one of the five researchers.
But spice isn't just a hit in China. The category has seen impressive growth in recent years as heat shows up more often in snacks, ice cream and other dairy products. Even candy has been spiced up as Snickers added Sichuan peppercorn. Skittles and Starbursts have also gotten a hot reformulation. Dairy products are particularly likely to add hot and spicy flavors since the creamy texture and sweetness can help reduce the sensation of heat capsaicin produces in most pepper varieties.
It is unclear whether consumers will reconsider adding chili sauce or chopped jalapeño to foods because of this study. Spicy food has become more popular in recent years as consumers seek out regional ethnic flavors and more interesting culinary experiences — particularly those from Central and South America.
The trend has caught on with all age groups. A Mintel study found 80% of millennials are interested in more spices from peppers and chilies in their food. Older consumers are also interested in spice, since they often want to reduce sodium, fats and sugars without sacrificing flavor.
The global spice market is expected to grow 6% between 2018 and 2023 to reach a value of $30.4 billion, according to Prescient & Stratgic Intelligence. But if shoppers reverse this trend as a result of the study, companies that have been making their products hotter could be in trouble.
Of the total number of Chinese adults studied, chili consumers had lower incomes and body mass indexes, but were more physically active than those who stuck to mild foods. Researchers believe those of normal body weight could be more sensitive to chili than those who are overweight, which may be why there was a greater impact on memory for slim people.
Another Chinese study showed a link between chili consumption and obesity, but U.S. researchers also found regular chili consumption could reduce mortality risk by 12%. Such mixed messages could produce more confusion than clarity on the issue, and manufacturers may be wondering whether or not to shy away from producing spicier products and adding ingredients with heat.