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Hot Chile Peppers - Red, Green and Yellow Capsicum


About Hot Peppers - Capsicum:

Hot Chile Peppers - Red, Green and Yellow Capsicum - Variecolored and Spicy!

When Columbus came ashore somewhere in the Caribbean on his search for a shortcut to the Far East and the spices folks back in Europe craved, he couldn’t have guessed how a local plant would far outstrip the craving for black pepper.

The first taste of one of these little hot pods no doubted added a bit of zip to the shipboard diet. The fruit of the native plant, cultivated and appreciated from Peru to Mexico, was named a pepper, after the known Piper nigrum L. genus, black pepper.

However, the New World pepper was properly a Capsicum, of the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Once taken to Spain in 1493, and acknowledged for their medicinal properties, the frenzy for these tasty little plants spread everywhere. Today, peppers from India, China and Turkey dominate the spice industry.

Called by many names, pepper, chili, chile, chilli, Aji, paprika and Capsicum chile, there are many varieties of Capsicum. Each has its own devotees and prevails in ethnic suisines.

The most common species of chile peppers, referred to as "C" are:
  • C annuum - includes many common varieties such as bell peppers, paprika, and jalapeños. This is the most common species and used througout the world.
  • C chinense - includes the hottest peppers such as habaneros and Scotch bonnets. They are named for China since the French biologist who did the naming got his seeds from the New World via China.
  • C Chacoense - referred to as the Mother of peppers
  • C pubescens - includes the South American rocoto peppers. They originated in the Andes in Equador and Bolivia. It is cultivated there as well as in mountainous regions of Mexico and Central America.
  • C baccatum - includes the chiltepin and is the favored South American pepper. It probably originated in northern Argentina and Bolivia and is cultivated throughout much of South America.
  • C frutescens - includes cayenne and tabasco peppers, probably originated in the Amazon basin.
  • The word Capsicum comes from the Greek language meaning "to bite." Pungency, color, shape, flavor, size and use determine the pepper's classification but all share nutritional and medicinal value.

    Peppers add nutrients to foods. They serve as cooling agents in a hot climate. The capsaicin contained in the chiles invigorates the bloodstream by dilating the capillaries. This increases the flow of blood and perspiration which cools you off while your mouth is on fire.

    The fresh, dried or canned pepper product adds spice, heat and pungency to a myriad of international cuisines. The fiery hot flavor of the pepper is concentrated along the top of the pod, or fruit, which is often is eaten cooked or raw. Capsaicin comes from glands at the stem end of the pod. The hot stuff flows down through the pod so that by removing the seeds and inner membranes, you can reduce the heat level.

    How Hot Are They?:

    Without going into all the detail specified in Scoville Scale, the heat is measured in Scoville units, SHU. For example,

  • bell peppers - 0 SHU
  • jalapeños - 3,000–6,000 SHU
  • chiltepin - 50,000-100,000 SHU
  • habaneros - 300,000 SHU Heat is modified by on seed lineage, climate and even soil, and enhanced by pungency. The SHU rating is often found in advertising and labels. Be warned!

  • Healthful Benefits:

    Capsaicin has an antibacterial effect, so food cooked with chiles keeps for longer without spoiling. Chiles are rich in vitamin C and are believed to have many beneficial effects on health. The pain caused by capsaicin stimulates the production of endorphins, which act as analgesics and produce a sense of well-being. Psychologists suggest that eating chiles is like riding a roller coaster, in which extreme sensations like pain and fear are enjoyed.

    Most common in south America are the varieties of C baccatum grown close to the Andes, but also into Paraguay, Northern Argentina and southern Brazil. These are usually called ají, or kellu-uchu, from the Inca, when fresh, and cusqueno when dried. This pepper with cream colored flowers and seeds, adds heat but also a distinct flavor to foods.

    It’s a pity that C. baccatum and C. pubescens aren’t more widely known. Connoisseurs of Chilean ají deem it the best pepper in the world.

    Using Capsicum Peppers:

    Note: Don't confuse the spelling of chiles with the country of Chile, where hot peppers are known as ají and the pepper sauce called pebre[, which is a favored condiment.

    Many South American cooks have prepared chile pepper pastes on hand for use in various recipes. The flavor, heat and pungency depends on both the chile chosen and the method of preparation.

    A simple paste is pepper, oil and salt to taste. Originally, peppers were chopped or ground to a paste using a mortar and pestle, but you'll find a blender much easier.

    Choose your chiles, such as aji rocoto, aji amarillo or rojo, aji mirasol, aji ponca or aji chileno. Remove the seeds and ribs for a milder sauce, or leave intact for hot.

    Blanch or fire roast the peppers. Remove the skin and blend with enough oil and salad to taste. If you like, you can blend with the skin on, then fish out the bits after the mixture is blended.

    Store in a tightly covered container or a small canning jar for for a week in the refrigerator or for several months in the freezer.

    Add onions, garlic, lime or lemon juice and pepper to vary the flavor. You'll find more recipes for chile sauces in the Sauces and Condiments section.

    If you have questions or comments about capsicums, or a recipe you'd like to share, post them on the South America for Visitors Forum. If you're not already a registered user, you'll need to register, but it is easy and free.

    Buen provecho!

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