In order to add value to chili peppers, CIATEJ is implementing a project to extract capsaicin and utilize its active ingredients in pharmaceutical applications. Mexico is the second largest producer of chili peppers in the world, and their cultivation represents the eighth economic benefit of national agriculture, equivalent to 13 billion pesos annually, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA).
Belonging to the Capsicum plant genus, chilies produce a chemical compound called capsaicin, which causes the characteristic heat of this fruit and which is usually concentrated in seeds and the cover that surrounds them.
Engineer Marcos Godoy Zaragoza, from the Food Technology Unit of the Center for Research and Assistance in Technology and Design of the State of Jalisco (CIATEJ), explained that the project is long-term and that in the first phase it is aimed at evaluating the relevance of the extraction of active ingredients called capsaicinoids. He explained that there is little research and work on the exploitation of these active ingredients in Mexico, despite the fact that it is one of the main producers of chilies in the world, and thus a generator of raw materials.
“There is a lot of research, mainly in Europe, that is focused on the application in the pharmaceutical field, but it is carried out with other types of chili peppers. With that in mind, we are trying to work together to create wealth with chili producers, to create an alternative that will result in more income for them,” he said.
He also said that the extraction takes place via a supercritical fluid process, which is ideal for obtaining the highest concentrations of capsaicinoids without residues that could be toxic. This process consists of using carbon dioxide compressed so that it is in a liquid state; This is subjected to a process where it is raised to several atmospheres to create a supercritical state.
“This means that when we subject this gas to very high pressures, it can behave as a solvent or as a gas, and this double peculiarity allows us to perform a better extraction of components,” he pointed out.
The researcher pointed out that there are other extraction processes that require the use of solvents, the residues of which can be toxic, therefore they are not allowed to be used in pharmacological products. These can be washing, in which organic solvents are used; or another extraction procedure that uses a combination of solvents and low-temperature microwaves.
A researcher from the CIATEJ Zapopan unit indicated that they are testing different types of chili peppers produced in Mexico to characterize them. So far, they have tested some varieties of chili peppers, and others will be evaluated in the future.
“In this research, we find a very important area of opportunity, because in the Asian market they handle capsaicin-based products, even selling it as a raw material. However, we did not find a standardized term for capsaicin in the comparisons we made; For example, in China, the extract is called pure capsaicin because there is no solvent, but that does not mean it is pure capsaicin,” he said.
Godoy Zaragoza pointed out that in this research they confirm the content of capsaicin in the real extract and compare it with what is on the market in order to compete strongly, because they discovered that in the Chinese market these active ingredients are sold between 50 and 6 thousand dollars per gram. which means there is a lot of price variability.