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Q I like the articles about spices and herbs. Tell us about the red pepper flakes. Is there any nutritional benefit?

A First, happy Thanksgiving to all. I hope you will have the opportunity to share in family food traditions of your own or of friends. These times do enrich our lives. It has been fun to share information in this column about ways people use spices and herbs to season their food. I am grateful some of the ECU dietetic students enjoy different tastes than I do and are eager to tell you about them. Rupatun Win, a senior ECU dietetic student, uses red pepper flakes daily. I buy a jar about once a year. But Rupa, who says the flakes are magical, shares the following information.

It doesn’t matter if I’m eating some noodle dish at a Thai restaurant or if I’m eating a slice of pizza from a pizzeria, I’m adding red pepper flakes generously. You could say that it’s just in my DNA since I’m originally from southeast Asia, where spices are the centerpiece of almost every culture’s cuisine.

However, a friend of mine who was born and raised in southeastern North Carolina loves red pepper flakes almost as much as I do. I find this interesting because our taste in food is very different. My favorite dish is a bowl of pho, with basil, coriander, bean sprouts and tons of chili oil. Pho, which pronounced “fuh” is a Vietnamese’s noodle soup dish with rice noodles and beef or chicken as the main ingredients.

My friend, on the other hand, would be OK with eating country sausage, grits, and eggs for every meal the rest of her life. The country sausage that she enjoys so much also is full of red pepper flakes, and to me is by far the most predominant flavor.

Even though our palates may be wildly different, we both have an affinity for chili peppers. When you think of spicy foods, Asian, Latin American and African cuisines may come to mind, as these cultures are known for their use of spices. However, spicy foods are a staple in numerous cultures across the globe, and some of the most used spices are chili peppers which are often sold as red pepper flakes in the grocery stores.

I believe the reason chili peppers are so popular is not only because of the combination of taste and color, but more importantly because of the nutritional value they offer. More about nutrition later.

The amount of red pepper flakes you consume will vary based on how hot you want your dish to be. I have a tendency of mixing red pepper flakes it in most of my dishes and use about 1 tablespoon of red pepper flakes per day to make my meals exciting.

Capsaicinoids are the active components of hot peppers responsible for the heat, and carotenoids are the pigment that produce the red color in pepper. Both are considered a phytonutrient, which may help prevent disease. Depending on the type and brand of red pepper flakes, a serving (1 tablespoon or 5 grams) has about 17 calories, 3% Daily Value (DV) of potassium, 44% DV of vitamin A, and 7% DV of vitamin C based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Foods providing 20% or more of the DV are considered high sources of a nutrient, so even if you consume ½ tablespoon of red pepper flakes per day, this is contributing a significant amount of vitamin A in your diet.

You can find red pepper flakes at any grocery store, and they are relatively cheap, costing around $1.63 per ounce. You can buy it in small quantities, such as a 1.5-ounce container, or you can purchase in larger quantities online like I do, and go with a 13-ounce container. If you store the flakes in air-tight containers, they will keep at room temperature for several years.

With red pepper flakes being an excellent source of so many micronutrients, which are essential for survival, it’s no wonder most of the world can’t get enough spice.

Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an affiliate professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at