Capsicum is a genus of plants that includes several species of which the fruits are used as vegetables or spices. Some of these are hot peppers, while others are sweet peppers or bell peppers.
Hot chili peppers are thus not a single species, but belong to different Capsicum species and different cultivars. What they have in common is that they are hot, which is caused by an irritant alkaloid called capsaicin. This substance is found mostly in the interior tissue of the fruit to which the seeds adhere.
Chili peppers are closely related (same family) to the tomato, the eggplant, and the potato. All these crops were only known in the Americas until they were introduced in Europe by Christopher Columbus and other early explorers. From there they spread to Africa and Asia.
In many countries chili peppers have become so popular that you cannot imagine their kitchen without hot chili peppers. How did people in Thailand survive before they had the chili to spice up their delicious food? And how could Ethiopians prepare their food without berbere?
Hot chili peppers
Basic information and facts
The Capsicum genus includes several species of peppers (Capsicum annuum, Capsicum frutescens, Capsicum chinense, Capsicum pubescens, Capsicum baccatum), and some of these species include various quite different varieties.
“Hot chili peppers”, “Cayenne peppers”, “Jalapeños” and “Bell peppers” belong to the species: Capsicum annuum.
“Tabasco” belongs to the species: Capsicum frutescens.
“Habanero chile” belong to species: Capsicum chinense.
Capsicum (chili peppers) originate in the Americas, probably Brazil or the Caribbean.
Capsicum is now spread over the entire world in areas with suitable (tropical or warm) climate.
Annual, biennial, or perennial:
Capsicum annuum L. is a annual.
Capsicum frutescens L. is a short-lived perennial.
Flowers develop about 3 months after planting. Flowers are either white (C.annuum) or greenish-white (C.frutescens).
The lanceolate leaves are either glabrous or pubescent.
A lot of variety in fruits, wih different sizes, shapes and colors (green, red, yellow, purple). Depending on species and variety the fruits can be very hot, mild or sweet.
Climate and weather:
Requires a warm (tropical) climate. Cannot tolerate frost. Chili peppers and other Capsicum sp. like hot and dry weather for fruit ripening.
Pollination by bees.
Capsicum annuum is a herbaceous plant that reaches a height of one meter, but with support can get taller. Capsicum frutescens has woody stems that reach a height of two meters.
Direct seeding or transplanting.
Various aphids, Fruit fly, American bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera)
Phytophthora blight, Bacterial spot, Bacterial wilt, Various virus diseases
Fruit development: Fruits are first green, when ripening they turn yellow, orange or red.
Fruits are picked by hand when green or ripe. After that they are used fresh or dried in the sun.
Capsicum peppers can be eaten raw or cooked. Most chili peppers used in cooking are cultivars of the C. annuum and C. frutescens species, but few others are also used. Hot chilis are also used chopped and raw in salads. Chili peppers are cooked in stir-fried dishes. In many countries they are processed into spicy sauces or hot salsas.
Chili peppers are preserved by drying and then they are often grounded to chili powders, either pure or mixed with other spices. Other ways of preservation include pickling and freezing.
Capsicums are sometimes used as medicinal plants, but their use is also associated with certain health problems (stomach ulcers, kidney damage, etc.).
Proverbs and Quotes
- A small pepper is hotter than a large pepper.
- Whoever eats chili gets burned (Malaysia)
Did you know that?
- Chili peppers are not at all related to black pepper (Piper nigrum). But they got their name because of the hot taste which was already known from the black pepper.
- There is a famous rock band called the “Red Hot Chili Peppers”.
- Chili peppers are less hot if you remove the seeds.
- Chili peppers are rich in vitamin C.
Chili peppers can be considered vegetables or herbs (when eaten fresh) or could be classified with the spices (dried chili powder).
Sega Wot (Beef stew from Ethiopia)
3 big onions (chopped), 3 table spoons oil, 2 entire garlic (sliced), 4 teaspoon fresh ginger (grated) or ground ginger, 1 teaspoon cardamom (ground), ½ teaspoon mustard seed (ground), ½ teaspoon fenugreek (ground), ½ teaspoon coriander (ground), 1 to 2 table spoons fresh hot red chili, 3 table spoons tomato paste (if desired), 1 teaspoon salt (to taste), water, 750 g beef (cut in small cubes of ± 1.5 cm size)
Use a dry pan over moderate heat. Fry the onions for a few minutes, while stirring constantly. Then add the oil (preferably corn oil) and stir fry for another minute. Mix the spices with some water into a smooth paste. Add this together (if desired with the tomato paste) to the onions and continue to fry. Add salt and a bit of water. Stir to mix everything thoroughly. Add the beef cubes and a 1 to 2 cups of water. Cover the pan and cook for about 45 minutes (until the beef is tender). There should be a moderate amount of sauce. Add a bit of water if required.
Sega Wot (spiced stew of beef) is in Ethiopia served together with Injera (large “pancakes” with a slightly sour taste, which are made of a local cereal called Tef). But you could also serve it with rice.