Chili pepper or Chile pepper (from Nahuatl chilli, chilli pepper,
chilli, chillie, and chili) is the fruit of plants from the genus
Capsicum, members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae.
Chili peppers originated in the Americas. After the Columbian
Exchange, many cultivars of chili pepper spread across the world,
used in both food and medicine.
Chili peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas
since at least 7500 BC. There is archaeological evidence at sites
located in southwestern Ecuador that chili peppers were domesticated
more than 6000 years ago, and is one of the first cultivated
crops in the Central and South Americas that is self-pollinating.
Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter
them (in the Caribbean), and called them "peppers" because they,
like black and white pepper of the Piper genus known in Europe, have
a spicy hot taste unlike other foodstuffs. Upon their introduction
into Europe chilis were grown as botanical curiosities in the
gardens of Spanish and Portuguese monasteries. But the monks
experimented with the chilis' culinary potential and discovered that
their pungency offered a substitute for black peppercorns, which at
the time were so costly that they were used as legal currency in
Chilies were cultivated around the globe after Columbus. 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.
From the Americas, at the time the Spanish colony that controlled
commerce with Asia, chili peppers spread rapidly into the
Philippines and then to India, China, Indonesia, Korea and Japan.
They were incorporated into the local cuisines.
An alternate account for the spread of chili peppers is that the
Portuguese got the pepper from Spain, and cultivated it in India.
The chili pepper figures 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 it became the national spice in the form of paprika.
Species and cultivars
red chili pepper
See also: List of capsicum cultivars
The five domesticated species of chili peppers are:
Capsicum annuum, which includes many common varieties such as
bell peppers, wax, cayenne, jalapeños, and the chiltepin
Capsicum frutescens, which includes malagueta, tabasco and Thai
peppers, piri piri, African birdseye chili, 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
Assorted bell pepper fruits from Mexico
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 (which is also known as chile
colorado), Anaheim, 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 intensity when
ingested or applied topically are capsaicin
(8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) and several related chemicals,
collectively called capsaicinoids. Capsaicin is the primary
ingredient in the pepper spray used as an irritant weapon.
When consumed, capsaicinoids bind with pain receptors in the
mouth and throat that are responsible for sensing heat. Once
activated by the capsaicinoids, these receptors send a message to
the brain that the person has consumed something hot. The brain
responds to the burning sensation by raising the heart rate,
increasing perspiration and release of endorphins. A 2008 study
reports that capsaicin alters how the body's cells use energy
produced by hydrolysis of ATP. In the normal hydrolysis the SERCA
protein uses this energy to move calcium ions into the sarcoplasmic
reticulum. When capsaicin is present, it alters the conformation of
the SERCA, and thus reduces the ion movement; as a result the ATP
energy (which would have been used to pump the ions) is instead
released as heat.
The "heat" of chili peppers was historically measured in Scoville
heat units (SHU), which is a measure of how much a chili extract
must be diluted in sugar syrup before its heat becomes undetectable
to a panel of tasters. Bell peppers rank at 0 SHU, New Mexico green
chilis at about 1,500 SHU, jalapeños at 2,500–5,000 SHU, and
habaneros at 300,000 SHU. The modern commonplace method for
quantitative analysis of SHU rating uses high-performance liquid
chromatography 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.
World's hottest chili pepper
Current record holder
According to Guinness World Records, as of March 1st, 2011, the
world's hottest chili pepper is the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper
with a Scoville rating of 1,463,700 SHU.
In 2007, Guinness World Records certified the bhut jolokia, also
known as the ghost pepper/chili pepper, as being the world's hottest
chili pepper at 401.5 times hotter than Tabasco sauce.
On December 3, 2010, the Bhut Jolokia was replaced as the hottest
known chili pepper by the Naga Viper pepper, which had an average
peak Scoville rating more than 300,000 points higher than an average
bhut jolokia—but still not higher than the hottest ever recorded
In February 2011, Guinness World Records awarded the title of
"World's Hottest Chilli" to the Infinity chilli grown in Grantham,
England. This chilli rates at 1,067,286 units on the Scoville
On February 25, 2011, Guinness World Records announced that the Naga
viper pepper had beaten the previous record holder by 314,832 (SHU)
with a rating of 1,382,118.
Currently, Scoville ratings are highly controversial among the
pepper growing community and tests with more rigorous scientific
standards are yet to be conducted on the many peppers vying for the
title of the "world's hottest".
Thai pepper. Similar in variety to the African birdseye, it exhibits
considerable strength for its size.
The Black Pearl cultivar has round black fruit that ripens to a
Scotch bonnet chili peppers in a Caribbean market
Chili pepper pods, which are berries, are used fresh or dried.
Chiles are often dried to preserve them for long periods of time.
Preserving may also be done by pickling fresh chilies.
Dried chilies are often ground to powders, although some Mexican
dishes including variations on chiles rellenos may use whole
reconstituted chilies, and others may reconstitute dried chilies
before grinding to a paste. Chilies may be dried using smoke, such
as the chipotle, which is the smoked, dried form of the jalapeno.
Many fresh chilies such as poblano have a tough outer skin which
does not break down on cooking. For recipes where chiles are used
whole or in large slices, roasting, or other means of blistering or
charring the skin are usually performed so as not to entirely cook
the flesh beneath. When cooled, the skins will usually slip off
Chili pepper plant leaves, mildly bitter but nowhere near as hot
as the fruits that come from the same plant, 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 by far the most important fruit in Bhutan. Local markets
are never without chili, always teemed with different colors and
sizes, in fresh and dried form. Bhutanese call this crop ema (in
Dzongkha) or solo (in Sharchop). Chili is a staple fruit in Bhutan;
the ema datsi recipe is entirely made of chili mixed with local
cheese. Chili is also an important ingredient in almost all curries
and food recipes in the country.
Chilies are present in many cuisines. Some notable dishes other
than the ones mentioned elsewhere in this article include:
Paprikash from Hungary: uses significant amounts of mild, ground,
dried chilies, aka paprika, in a braised chicken dish
Chiles en nogada from the Puebla region of Mexico: uses fresh mild
chilies stuffed with meat and covered with a creamy nut-thickened
Mole poblano from the city of Puebla in Mexico: uses several
varieties of dried chilies, nuts, spices, and fruits to produce a
thick, dark sauce for poultry or other meats
Puttanesca sauce from Italy: a tomato-based sauce for pasta
including dried hot chilies
Kung Pao Chicken (also spelled Gong Bao) from the Sichuan region of
China: small hot dried chiles are briefly fried in oil to add spice
to the oil then used for frying.
Nigerian dishes and those in many parts of Africa.
Fresh or dried chilies are often used to make hot sauce, a
bottled condiment to add spice to other dishes. Hot sauces are found
in many cuisines including harissa from the Middle East, chili oil
from China (known as rāyu in Japan), and sriracha from Thailand.
Psychologist Paul Rozin suggests that eating chilis 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 harm.
Eating chili is viewed as a warrior’s ritual in Japan because of
its spicyness that gives individual fear and mental block. By
forcing themselves to eat chili, warriors’ mental state gets
stronger and may even feel invincible when stepping onto the
battlefield. Eating chili has been a popular practice among the
karate athletes who use it to strengthen their minds and
Capsaicin is a safe and effective topical analgesic agent in the
management of arthritis pain, herpes zoster-related pain, diabetic
neuropathy, postmastectomy pain, and headaches.
Main article: Pepper spray
Capsaicin extracted from chilis is used in a spray as a
Farmers in Africa and South Asia have found the use of chilis
effective in crop defense against elephants. The chilis are spread
on fences and other structures to keep the elephants away.[citation
needed] Because the elephants have a large and sensitive olfactory
and nasal system the smell of the chilli causes them discomfort and
deters them from feeding on the crops. This can lessen dangerous
physical confrontation between people and elephants.
As birds have a lessened sensitivity to the effects of chili it
can be used to keep mammalian vermin from bird seed (see
Evolutionary Advantages below).
Peppers, hot chili, red, raw Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 166 kJ (40 kcal)
Carbohydrates 8.8 g
- Sugars 5.3 g
- Dietary fiber 1.5 g
Fat 0.4 g
Protein 1.9 g
Water 88 g
Vitamin A equiv. 48 μg (5%)
- beta-carotene 534 μg (5%)
Vitamin B6 0.51 mg (39%)
Vitamin C 144 mg (240%)
Iron 1 mg (8%)
Magnesium 23 mg (6%)
Potassium 322 mg (7%)
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient database
Red chilis contain high amounts of vitamin C and carotene (provitamin
A). Yellow and especially green chilis (which are essentially unripe
fruit) contain a considerably lower amount of both substances. In
addition, peppers are a good source of most B vitamins, and vitamin
B6 in particular. They are very high in potassium, magnesium, and
iron. Their high vitamin C content can also substantially increase
the uptake of non-heme iron from other ingredients in a meal, such
as beans and grains.
Chili peppers drying in Kathmandu, Nepal
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. The seeds of
the peppers are distributed by the birds that drop the seeds while
eating the pods, and the seeds pass through the digestive tract
unharmed. This relationship may have promoted the evolution of the
protective capsaicin. Products based on this substance have been
sold to treat the seeds in bird feeders to deter squirrels and other
mammalian vermin without also deterring birds. Capsaicin is also a
defense mechanism against microbial fungi that invade through
punctures made in the outer skin by various insects.
Spelling and usage
The three primary spellings are chili, chile and chilli, all of
which are recognized by dictionaries.
Chili is widely used, although in much of South America the plant
and its vegetable are better known as ají, locoto, chile, or rocoto.
However, this spelling is discouraged by some in the United States
of America, since it also commonly refers to a
popular Southwestern-American dish (also known as chili con carne
(literally chili with meat), the official state dish of Texas), as
well as to the mixture of chili powder and other spices used to
flavor it. Chili, as in the case of Cincinnati chili, has come to be
used for stews that do not actually contain any chile peppers. Chili
powder and chile powder, on the other hand, can both refer to dried,
ground chili peppers.
Chile is an alternate usage, the most common Spanish spelling in
Mexico, as well as some parts of the United States of America and
Canada, which refers specifically to this plant and its fruit. In
the American Southwest (particularly northern New Mexico), chile
also denotes a thick, spicy, un-vinegared sauce which is available
in red and green varieties, and which is often served over most New
Chilli was the original[dubious – discuss] 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.
The name of the plant bears no relation to Chile, the country,
which is named after the Quechua chin ("cold"), tchili ("snow"), or
chilli ("where the land ends"). Chile, Panama, Peru and Puerto Rico
are some of the Spanish-speaking countries where chilis are known as
ají, a word of Taíno origin.
There is also some disagreement on the use of the word pepper for
chilis because pepper originally referred to the genus Piper, not
Capsicum; however this usage is included in English dictionaries,
including the Oxford English Dictionary (sense 2b of pepper) and
Merriam-Webster. The word pepper is commonly used in the botanical
and culinary fields in the names of different types of chili