The chili pepper (also chile pepper, chilli pepper, or simply
Nahuatl chīlli Nahuatl
pronunciation: [ˈt͡ʃiːli] ( listen)) is the fruit
of plants from the genus Capsicum, members of the nightshade family,
Solanaceae. They are widely used in many cuisines to add spiciness
to dishes. The substances that give chili peppers their intensity when
ingested or applied topically are capsaicin and related compounds
known as capsaicinoids.
Chili peppers originated in Mexico. After the Columbian Exchange,
many cultivars of chili pepper spread across the world, used for both
food and traditional medicine.
Worldwide in 2014, 32.3 million tonnes of green chili peppers and 3.8
million tonnes of dried chili peppers were produced.
China is the
world's largest producer of green chillies, providing half of the
3 Species and cultivars
4.1 Common peppers
4.2 Notable hot chili peppers
5.1 Culinary uses
5.2 Ornamental plants
5.5 Pepper spray
5.6 Crop defense
5.7 Food defense
6 Nutritional value
7 Spelling and usage
9 See also
11 External links
Pottery that tested positive for
Capsicum sp. residues excavated at
Chiapa de Corzo in southern
Mexico dated from Middle to Late
Preclassic periods (400 BCE to 300 CE)
Chili peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since
at least 7500 BCE. The most recent research shows that chili peppers
were domesticated more than 6000 years ago in Mexico, in the region
that extends across southern
Puebla and northern
southeastern Veracruz, and were one of the first self-pollinating
crops cultivated in Mexico, Central and parts of South America.
Peru is considered the country with the highest cultivated Capsicum
diversity because it is a center of diversification where varieties of
all five domesticates were introduced, grown, and consumed in
pre-Columbian times. Bolivia is considered to be the country where the
largest diversity of wild
Capsicum peppers are consumed. Bolivian
consumers distinguish two basic forms: ulupicas, species with small
round fruits including C. eximium, C. cardenasii, C. eshbaughii, and
C. caballeroi landraces; and arivivis with small elongated fruits
including C. baccatum var. baccatum and C. chacoense varieties.
Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter them
(in the Caribbean), and called them "peppers" because they, like black
pepper of the Piper genus known in Europe, have a spicy, hot taste
unlike other foodstuffs. Upon their introduction into Europe, chilies
were grown as botanical curiosities in the gardens of Spanish and
Portuguese monasteries. Christian monks experimented with the culinary
potential of chili and discovered that their pungency offered a
substitute for black peppercorns.
Cubanelle chili peppers
Chilies were cultivated around the globe after Indigenous people
shared them with travelers. Diego Álvarez Chanca, a physician
on Columbus' second voyage to the
West Indies in 1493, brought the
first chili peppers to
Spain and first wrote about their medicinal
effects in 1494.
The spread of chili peppers to Asia was most likely a natural
consequence of its introduction to Portuguese traders[verification
needed] (Lisbon was a common port of call for Spanish ships sailing to
and from the Americas) who, aware of its trade value, would have
likely promoted its commerce in the Asian spice trade routes then
dominated by Portuguese and Arab traders. It was introduced in
India by the Portuguese towards the end of 15th century. Today
chilies are an integral part of
South Asian and Southeast Asian
The chili pepper features heavily in the cuisine of the Goan region of
India, which was the site of a Portuguese colony (e.g., vindaloo, an
Indian interpretation of a Portuguese dish). Chili peppers journeyed
from India, through Central Asia and Turkey, to Hungary, where
they became the national spice in the form of paprika.
An alternate, although not so plausible account (no obvious
correlation between its dissemination in Asia and Spanish presence or
trade routes), defended mostly by Spanish historians, was that from
Mexico, at the time a Spanish colony, chili peppers spread into their
other colony the
Philippines and from there to India, China,
Indonesia. To Japan, it was brought by the Portuguese missionaries in
1542, and then later, it was brought to Korea.
In 1995 archaeobotanist Hakon Hjelmqvist published an article in
Svensk Botanisk Tidskrift claiming there was evidence for the presence
of chili peppers in Europe in pre-Columbian times. According to
Hjelmqvist, archaeologists at a dig in St Botulf in
Lund found a
Capsicum frutescens in a layer from the 13th century. Hjelmqvist
thought it came from Asia. Hjelmqvist also said that
described by the Greek
Theophrastus (370–286 BCE) in his Historia
Plantarum, and in other sources. Around the first century CE, the
Martialis (Martial) mentioned "Piperve crudum" (raw pepper)
in Liber XI, XVIII, allegedly describing them as long and containing
seeds (a description which seems to fit chili peppers - but could also
fit the long pepper, which was well known to ancient Romans).
Green chili production – 2014
(millions of tonnes)
FAOSTAT of the United Nations
In 2014, world production of fresh green chillies and peppers was 33.2
million tonnes, led by
China with 48% of the global total. Global
production of dried chillies and peppers was about nine times less
than for fresh production, led by
India with 32% of the world
Species and cultivars
See also: List of
Thai pepper, similar in variety to the African birdseye, exhibits
considerable strength for its size
The five domesticated species of chili peppers are as follows:
Capsicum annuum, which includes many common varieties such as bell
peppers, wax, cayenne, jalapeños, chiltepin, and all forms of New
Capsicum frutescens, which includes malagueta, tabasco and Thai
peppers, piri piri, and Malawian Kambuzi
Capsicum chinense, which includes the hottest peppers such as the
naga, habanero, Datil and Scotch bonnet
Capsicum pubescens, which includes the South American rocoto peppers
Capsicum baccatum, which includes the South American aji peppers
Though there are only a few commonly used species, there are many
cultivars and methods of preparing chili peppers that have different
names for culinary use. Green and red bell peppers, for example, are
the same cultivar of C. annuum, immature peppers being green. In the
same species are the jalapeño, the poblano (which when dried is
referred to as ancho), New Mexico, serrano, and other cultivars.
Peppers are commonly broken down into three groupings: bell peppers,
sweet peppers, and hot peppers. Most popular pepper varieties are seen
as falling into one of these categories or as a cross between them.
A display of hot peppers and a board explaining the
Scoville scale at
a Houston, Texas, grocery store
The substances that give chili peppers their pungency (spicy heat)
when ingested or applied topically are capsaicin
(8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) and several related chemicals,
collectively called capsaicinoids. The quantity of capsaicin
varies by variety, and on growing conditions. Water stressed peppers
usually produce stronger pods. When a habanero plant is stressed, for
example low water, the concentration of capsaicin increases in some
parts of the fruit.
When peppers are consumed, capsaicin binds with pain receptors in the
mouth and throat, potentially evoking pain via spinal relays to the
brainstem and thalamus where heat and discomfort are perceived.
The intensity of the "heat" of chili peppers is commonly reported in
Scoville heat units (SHU). Historically, it was a measure of the
dilution of an amount of chili extract added to sugar syrup before its
heat becomes undetectable to a panel of tasters; the more it has to be
diluted to be undetectable, the more powerful the variety, and
therefore the higher the rating. The modern method is a
quantitative analysis of SHU using high-performance liquid
chromatography (HPLC) to directly measure the capsaicinoid content of
a chili pepper variety. Pure capsaicin is a hydrophobic, colorless,
odorless, and crystalline-to-waxy solid at room temperature, and
measures 16,000,000 SHU.
Red Bhut Jolokia and green bird's eye chilies
A wide range of intensity is found in commonly used peppers:
Mexico green chile
0 - 70,000 SHU
Habanero, Scotch bonnet, bird's eye
Notable hot chili peppers
Some of the world's hottest chili peppers are:
Trinidad moruga scorpion
Bhut jolokia (Ghost pepper)
Trinidad Scorpion Butch T
Chilies at a market in India
Sambal is the name for chili pastes in Indonesian, Malaysian and
Thai curry pastes contain large amounts of chilies
Chili pepper pods, which are berries, are used fresh or dried. Chilies
are dried to preserve them for long periods of time, which may also be
done by pickling.
Dried chilies are often ground into powders, although many Mexican
dishes including variations on chiles rellenos use the entire chili.
Dried whole chilies may be reconstituted before grinding to a paste.
The chipotle is the smoked, dried, ripe jalapeño.
Many fresh chilies such as poblano have a tough outer skin that does
not break down on cooking. Chilies are sometimes used whole or in
large slices, by roasting, or other means of blistering or charring
the skin, so as not to entirely cook the flesh beneath. When cooled,
the skins will usually slip off easily.
The leaves of every species of
Capsicum are edible. Though almost all
other Solanaceous crops have toxins in their leaves, chili peppers do
not. The leaves, which are mildly bitter and nowhere
near as hot as the fruit, are cooked as greens in Filipino cuisine,
where they are called dahon ng sili (literally "chili leaves"). They
are used in the chicken soup tinola. In Korean cuisine, the leaves
may be used in kimchi. In Japanese cuisine, the leaves are cooked
as greens, and also cooked in tsukudani style for preservation.
Chili is a staple fruit in Bhutan. Bhutanese call this crop ema (in
Dzongkha) or solo (in Sharchop). The ema datsi recipe is entirely made
of chili mixed with local cheese.
In India, most households always keep a stock of fresh hot green
chilies at hand, and use them to flavor most curries and dry dishes.
It is typically lightly fried with oil in the initial stages of
preparation of the dish. Some states in India, such as Rajasthan, make
entire dishes only by using spices and chilies.
Chilies are present in many cuisines. Some notable dishes other than
the ones mentioned elsewhere in this article include:
Arrabbiata sauce from Italy is a tomato-based sauce for pasta always
including dried hot chilies.
Puttanesca sauce is tomato-based with olives, capers, anchovy and,
Paprikash from Hungary uses significant amounts of mild, ground, dried
chilies, known as paprika, in a braised chicken dish.
Chiles en nogada
Chiles en nogada from the
Puebla region of
Mexico uses fresh mild
chilies stuffed with meat and covered with a creamy nut-thickened
Curry dishes usually contain fresh or dried chillies.
Kung pao chicken
Kung pao chicken (Mandarin Chinese: 宫保鸡丁 gōng bǎo jī dīng)
Sichuan region of
China uses small hot dried chilies briefly
fried in oil to add spice to the oil then used for frying.
Mole poblano from the city of
Mexico uses several varieties
of dried chilies, nuts, spices, and fruits to produce a thick, dark
sauce for poultry or other meats.
Nam phrik are traditional Thai chili pastes and sauces, prepared with
chopped fresh or dry chilies, and additional ingredients such as fish
sauce, lime juice, and herbs, but also fruit, meat or seafood.
'Nduja, a more typical example of Italian spicy specialty, from the
region of Calabria, is a soft pork sausage made "hot" by the addition
of the locally grown variety of jalapeño chili.
Paprykarz szczeciński is a Polish fish paste with rice, onion, tomato
concentrate, vegetable oil, chili pepper powder and other spices.
Sambal terasi or sambal belacan is a traditional Indonesian and Malay
hot condiment made by frying a mixture of mainly pounded dried
chillies, with garlic, shallots, and fermented shrimp paste. It is
customarily served with rice dishes and is especially popular when
mixed with crunchy pan-roasted ikan teri or ikan bilis (sun-dried
anchovies), when it is known as sambal teri or sambal ikan bilis.
Various sambal variants existed in Indonesian archipelago, among
others are sambal badjak, sambal oelek, sambal pete (prepared with
green stinky beans) and sambal pencit (prepared with unripe green
Som tam, a green papaya salad from Thai and Lao cuisine, traditionally
has, as a key ingredient, a fistful of chopped fresh hot Thai chili,
pounded in a mortar.
Fresh or dried chilies are often used to make hot sauce, a liquid
condiment—usually bottled when commercially available—that adds
spice to other dishes. Hot sauces are found in many cuisines including
harissa from North Africa, chili oil from
China (known as rāyu in
Japan), and sriracha from Thailand.
Capsaicin is also the primary component in pepper spray, a
The contrast in colour and appearance makes chili plants interesting
to some as a purely decorative garden plant.
Black pearl pepper: small cherry-shaped fruits and dark brown to black
Black pearl pepper
Black Hungarian pepper: green foliage, highlighted by purple veins and
purple flowers, jalapeño-shaped fruits 
Bishop's crown pepper, Christmas bell pepper: named for its distinct
three-sided shape resembling a red bishop’s crown or a red Christmas
Paul Rozin suggests that eating chilies is an example of
a "constrained risk" like riding a roller coaster, in which extreme
sensations like pain and fear can be enjoyed because individuals know
that these sensations are not actually harmful. This method lets
people experience extreme feelings without any risk of bodily
Capsaicin, the chemical in chili peppers that makes them hot, is used
as an analgesic in topical ointments, nasal sprays, and dermal patches
to relieve pain.
Main article: Pepper spray
Capsaicin extracted from chilies is used in pepper spray as an
irritant, a form of less-lethal weapon.
Conflicts between farmers and elephants have long been widespread in
African and Asian countries, where elephants nightly destroy crops,
raid grain houses, and sometimes kill people. Farmers have found the
use of chilies effective in crop defense against elephants. Elephants
do not like capsaicin, the chemical in chilies that makes them hot.
Because the elephants have a large and sensitive olfactory and nasal
system, the smell of the chili causes them discomfort and deters them
from feeding on the crops. By planting a few rows of the pungent fruit
around valuable crops, farmers create a buffer zone through which the
elephants are reluctant to pass. Chilly-Dung Bombs are also used for
this purpose. They are bricks made of mixing dung and chili, and are
burned, creating a noxious smoke that keeps hungry elephants out of
farmers' fields. This can lessen dangerous physical confrontation
between people and elephants.
Birds do not have the same sensitivity to capsaicin, because it
targets a specific pain receptor in mammals. Chili peppers are eaten
by birds living in the chili peppers' natural range, possibly
contributing to seed dispersal and evolution of the protective
capsaicin in chili peppers.
Peppers, hot chili, red, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
166 kJ (40 kcal)
Vitamin A equiv.
0.01g – 6 g
μg = micrograms • mg = milligrams
IU = International units
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
While red chilies contain large amounts of vitamin C (table), other
species contain significant amounts of provitamin A beta-carotene.
In addition, peppers are a rich source of vitamin B6 (see table).
Spelling and usage
The three primary spellings are chili, chile and chilli, all of which
are recognized by dictionaries.
Chili is widely used in historically Anglophone regions of the United
States and Canada. However, it is also commonly used as a
short name for chili con carne (literally "chili with meat"). Most
versions are seasoned with chili powder, which can refer to pure
dried, ground chili peppers, or to a mixture containing other spices.
Chile is the most common Spanish spelling in
Mexico and several other
Latin American countries, as well as some parts of the United
States and Canada, which refers specifically to this plant and its
fruit. In the Southwest
United States (particularly New Mexico), chile
also denotes a thick, spicy, un-vinegared sauce made from this fruit,
available in red and green varieties, and served over the local food,
while chili denotes the meat dish. The plural is chile or chiles.
Chilli was the original
Romanization of the
Náhuatl language word for
the fruit (chīlli) and is the preferred British spelling according to
the Oxford English Dictionary, although it also lists chile and chili
as variants. Chilli (and its plural chillies) is the most common
spelling in Australia, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan,
Singapore and South Africa.
The name of the plant is almost certainly unrelated to that of Chile,
the country, which has an uncertain etymology perhaps relating to
local place names. Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru,
Dominican Republic and
Puerto Rico are some of the Spanish-speaking
countries where chilies are known as ají, a word of Taíno origin.
Though pepper originally referred to the genus Piper, not Capsicum,
the latter usage is included in English dictionaries, including the
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary (sense 2b of pepper) and
Merriam-Webster. The word pepper is also commonly used in the
botanical and culinary fields in the names of different types of chili
plants and their fruits.
The habanero pepper
Immature chilies in the field
The Black Pearl cultivar
Scotch bonnet chili peppers in a
Chili peppers drying in Kathmandu, Nepal
Removing veins and seeds from dried chilies in San Pedro Atocpan
Dried chili pepper flakes and fresh chilies
Chili pepper dip in a traditional restaurant in Amman, Jordan
Dried Thai bird's eye chilies
Guntur chilli drying in the sun, Andhra Pradesh, India
Sundried chilli at Imogiri, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Mexico chiles dried on the plant in Mesilla, New Mexico
Chili pepper wine from Virginia
Chili grenade, a type of weapon made with chili peppers
Dragon's Breath (chili pepper)
Hatch, New Mexico, known as the "
Chile Capital of the World"
History of chocolate, which the Mayans drank with ground chili peppers
Ristra, an arrangement of dried chili pepper pods
Sweet chili sauce, a condiment for adding a sweet, mild heat taste to
Taboo food and drink, which in some cultures includes chili peppers
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Bishop's crown pepper, image, cayennediane
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^ "chili" from Merriam-Webster; other spellings are listed as
variants, with "Chili" identified as "chiefly British"
^ The Canadian Oxford Dictionary lists chili as the main entry, and
labels chile as a variant, and chilli as a British variant.
^ Heiser, Charles (August 1990). Seed To Civilization: The Story of
Food. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
^ "Definition for chilli – Oxford Dictionaries Online (World
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^ "Fall in exports crushes chilli prices in Guntur".
Thehindubusinessline.com. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
Capsicum and Pepper are spicy plants grown for the pod.
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Sundaytimes.lk. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
^ "Chili or Pepper?". Chilipedia.org. Archived from the original on 20
January 2013. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
^ "va=pepper – Definition from the
Dictionary". M-w.com. 13 August 2010. Retrieved 23 December
Look up chili in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikibooks Cookbook has a recipe/module on
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Capsicum.
WildChilli.EU All about Wild Chili's / Capsicums / Peppers
Plant Cultures: Chilli pepper botany, history and uses
Chile Pepper Institute of New
Mexico State University
Capsicums: Innovative Uses of an Ancient Crop
Chilli: La especia del Nuevo Mundo (Article from Germán Octavio
López Riquelme about biology, nutrition, culture and medical topics.
The Hot Pepper List List of chilli pepper varieties ordered by heat
rating in Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
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