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Capsicum annuum Linn. and C. frutescens Linn.

Family : Solanaceae

Other names: Chili; pepperDescription

chilly2.gif (13439 bytes)Chilli or pepper (Capsicum) is any of a great number of plants of the night shade family, Solanaceae, extensively cultivated throughout tropical Asia and equatorial America for their edible, pungent fruits. India is the largest producer and exporter of chillies. The genus Capsicum comprised all the varied forms of fleshy-fruited peppers grown as herbaceous annuals - the red, green, and yellow pepper rich in vitamins A and C that are used in seasoning and as a vegetable food. It includes paprika, chili pepper, red pepper (cayenne), and bell peppers. The latter one is considered and eaten as a vegetable and is not covered in this section. The capsicums under each category vary tremendously and the species designation is not always possible. In general, paprika belongs to C.annum and the red peppers and chili peppers belong to the C.frutescens species. The name chilli is believed to be derived from an ancient Indian word txile. The term "pimiento," from the Spanish for "pepper", is applied to certain mild pepper varieties possessing distinctive flavour but lacking in pungency; these include the European paprikas, which include the paprika of commerce, a powdered red condiment that was known in Hungary by the late 16th century.

Peppers, which have been found in prehistoric remains in Peru, were widely grown in Centralchilly.gif (5839 bytes) and South America in pre-Columbian times and are considered indigenous to the the Western Hemisphere. Christopher Columbus found capsicum peppers in the New World and wrote about them. The Indians as far back as 7000 BC, the remains of which were found in archeological sites in Mexico, ate capsicums. Pepper seeds were carried to Spain in 1493 and from there spread rapidly throughout Europe.


The chilli plant is bush-like, grows up to about 0.6m and bears white flowers that produce fruits in a variety of sizes, colours and shapes. The plants grow at altitudes from sea level to 1,800 m above MSL in the tropics. Their pungency is influenced by several factors, such as high night temperatures and drought or over-watering.


Pepper plants are treated as tender summer annuals outside their native habitat. They are propagated by planting seed directly in the field or by transplanting seedlings started in green houses or hotbeds after 6-10 weeks. Green chillies are immature fruits and red chillies have been allowed to ripen for a further 4 weeks.

Aroma and flavour

The pungency for the red peppers and the colour value for the paprikas are the most important parameters. Hot peppers, used as relishes, pickled or ground into a fine powder for use as spices, derive their pungency from the compound capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-enamide), a substance characterized by acrid and burning taste, that is located in the internal partitions of the fruit. First isolated in 1876, capsaicin stimulates gastric secretions and, if used in excess, causes inflammation. It is a tasteless, odourless white crystalline substance. Its level varies widely in capsicum peppers, from less than 0.05% in the mildly pungent types to as high as 1.3% in the hottest chillies. The pungency level is usually represented in Scoville heat values. Pungency levels vary in the same variety, by geographical region, and in maturity levels. Volatile oil content is low in all capscicums. The pigment responsible for the colour in paprikas is capxanthin, a carotenoid. Other carotenoids present are capsorubin, zeaxanthin, lutein, kryptoxanthin and alpha and beta-carotene. The pigment content increases as the fruit ripens and continues after maturity.The extractable colour of parika is usually expressed in ASTA colour value or in Colour Units, which are 40 times the ASTA colour.

Culinary use

Chillies have a chemical effect on our bodies as they stimulate the appetite and cool the body. The chilli flavour revolutionized the cooking of tropical countries. Red pepper is used in a large variety of products, often in the meat and pickling industry in the form of crushed red pepper or ground red pepper. It is used either in the ground form or as oleoresin in any product that has some heat or pungency. A fine powder made from specially mild varieties of pepper, C.annum, is known as paprika. Paprika is used more extensively whenever a red to orange colour is desired such as in processed meats, snack, foods, sauces, gravies, salad dressings etc.

Other use

Chilli pepper is used primarily in the manufacture of chilli powders. Cayenne pepper is a very fine ground powder from the C.frutescens variety. It is widely used as a seasoning and it is also added to some curries. Chilli powder of chili pepper is the dried ground product of the milder peppers. It is a blended product of different chilies to get the exact flavour profile and colour desired. Chilli peppers are often caramelized to get a burnt flavour note and a surface browned colour. Common heat values for chilli peppers are mild, about 100 Scoville heat units. Tabasco sauce or chilli sauce is a North American seasoning made from extremely hot Tabasco or cone chillies, which are mixed with vinegar and then matured in white oak casks for several years. It is widely used in small quantities as a general seasoning. Chilli is also used as a paste and in crushed form in several dishes.

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