A good portion of us love the many different types of spicy food; the crucial ingredient in all of them is the humble chilli pepper. Widely used in cuisine all around the world, the chilli pepper has spread from its south American homeland and is now produced in many countries. In this short article, we will investigate its origins, details the various types, and look at how it is used in everything from extra hot chilli sauce to chicken curry and beyond.
Where Chilli Pepper Came From
The Chilli pepper, or genus Capsicum to give its Latin name, is a variety of berry-fruit plant which is thought to have originated in Central or South America. It was first properly cultivated in Mexico, and after the Columbian exchange spread to other countries around the world. Today, over thirty-five million tons of chillies are grown annually, with a vast proportion of these being produced in China.
The Different Types of Chilli Peppers
There are many different species of chilli pepper plants that are domestically cultivated today, and they all fall into five specific groups, they are –
- Capsicum Annuum covers many common peppers such as bell peppers, jalapenos, cayenne, and Thai peppers.
- Capsicum Frutescens – tabasco, Piri Piri, and Malawian Kambuzi all fall into this group; they are small and have a pungent smell.
- Capsicum Chinense – this group includes the hottest peppers with varieties like Naga, Scotch bonnet and Habanero, giving out a ridiculous amount of heat when added to recipes.
- Capsicum Pubescens / Baccatum – these last two groups cover the South American Rocoto and Aji peppers.
The most popular chilli peppers are also the source of many of the world’s favourite spices, with Paprika and Pimiento being just two of them.
Measuring The Heat
We feel the heat from Chilli peppers when they come into contact with the pain receptors in our mouth and throat. In 1912 an American Pharmacist called William Scoville invented the system still used today to measure the intensity or heat of a chilli pepper. The units of measurement are called Scoville heat units or SHU. To give you some idea, the common bell pepper is rated at zero while the common cayenne pepper is rated at between thirty to fifty thousand. Very spicy chillies include the Scotch bonnet, which has a rating of one to three hundred thousand. The world record is currently held by the Pepper X variety produced in the USA, which has a rating of a staggering 3.18 million Scoville heat units.
The humble chilli pepper is a staple ingredient in many of our favourite dishes. Hopefully, if you are a fan of hot and spicy food, this information has given you the desire to try something even hotter.