Capsicum pepper refers primarily to Capsicum annuum L. and Capsicum frutescens L., plants used in the manufacture of selected commercial products known for their pungency and color. Capsicum annuum L. is a herbaceous annual that reaches a height of one meter and has glabrous or pubescent lanceolate leaves, white flowers, and fruit that vary in length, color, and pungency depending upon the cultivar. Native to America, this plant is cultivated primarily in Spain, Eastern Europe, North Africa, California, and New Mexico. Capsicum frutcens L. is a short-lived perennial with woody stems that reach a height of two meters, glabrous or pubescent leaves, has two or more greenish-white flowers per node, and extremely pungent fruit. This plant is cultivated in the tropics and warmer regions of the world.
The following discussion on paprika was excerpted from the articled: Bosland, P.W. 1996. Capsicums: Innovative uses of an ancient crop. p. 479-487. In: J. Janick (ed.), Progress in new crops. ASHS Press, Arlington, VA.
Capsicum has been known since the beginning of civilization in the Western Hemisphere. It has been a part of the human diet since about 7500 BC (MacNeish 1964). It was the ancient ancestors of the native peoples who took the wild chili piquin and selected for the many various types known today. Heiser (1976) states that apparently between 5200 and 3400 BC, the Native Americans were growing chili plants. This places chilies among the oldest cultivated crops of the Americas. As opposed to most domesticated crops, the wild ancestral chilies are not looked upon as worthless or inferior by farming people who cultivate their domestic decedents. The wild Capsicum annuum var. aviculare is harvested and sold in the marketplace along side the larger-fruited domesticated chilies. Capsicum was domesticated at least five times by prehistoric peoples in different parts of South and Middle America. The five domesticated species are C. annuum L., C. baccatum L., C. chinense Jacq., C. frutescens L., and C. pubescens R. & P. (IBPGR 1983).
Capsicum terminology is confusing. Pepper, chili, chile, chilli, aji, paprika, and Capsicum are used interchangeably for plants in the genus Capsicum. Capsicum investigators use chili, pepper, or aji, as vernacular terms. Capsicum is reserved for taxonomic discussion. The word "chili" is a variation of "chil" derived from the Nahuatl (Aztec) dialect which referred to plants now known as Capsicum, whereas "aji" is a variation of "axi" from the extinct Arawak dialect of the Caribbean. This brings up the point of the correct way to spell "chili" (Domenici 1983). The "e" ending in chile is the authentic Hispanic spelling of the word, whereas English linguists have changed the e to an i. Chile pepper has come to mean pungent chile cultivars. However, chile means pepper (Capsicum) whether the fruits are pungent or not. Generally, chili is used to identify the state dish of Texas, which is a combination of pungent chile cultivars and meat (Domenici 1983). Bell pepper generally refers to non-pungent blocky chile types. Additional confusion is present within species designation, because C. annuum was sometimes called C. frutescens in the scientific literature (Heiser and Smith 1953).
The genus Capsicum is a member of the Solanaceae family that includes tomato, potato, tobacco, and petunia. The genus Capsicum consists of approximately 22 wild species and five domesticated species (Bosland 1994): C. annuum, C. baccatum, C. chinense, C. frutescens, and C. pubescens. Capsicum. Capsicum is a perennial small shrub in suitable climatic conditions, living for a decade or more in tropical South and Central America. Capsicum probably evolved from an ancestral form in the Bolivia/Peru area (Heiser 1976). Chile fruits are considered vegetables, but are berries botanically. Chile types usually are classified by fruit characteristics, i.e. pungency, color, shape, flavor, size, and their use (Smith et al. 1987; Bosland 1992). Despite their vast trait differences most chile cultivars commercially cultivated in the world belong to the species, C. annuum. The tabasco (C. frutescens) and habañero (C. chinense), are the best-known exceptions.
The reported life zone for capsicum peppers is 7 to 29 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.3 to 4.6 meters and a soil pH of 4.3 to 8.7 . Capsicum species are cold sensitive and generally grow best in well-drained, sandy or silt-loam soil. Plantings are established by seeding or transplanting. Flowering usually occurs three months after planting. Hot and dry weather is desirable for fruit ripening. Fruit is generally handpicked as it ripens, and then allowed to dry in the sun, although artificial drying is often employed in Europe and the United States. The fruit may be ground intact or after the removal of seeds, placenta parts, and stalks, increasing the fruit color and lowering the pungency.
The level of pungency of the Capsicum species depends upon the concentration of capsaicinoids, primarily of capsaicin, in the fruit. Capsicum peppers are classified commercially by the concentration of capsaicinoids, since confusion about the biological identities of some varieties has made other methods unreliable. Paprika comes from plants with 10 to 30 parts per million capsaicinoids, chili peppers from plants with 30 to 600 parts per million, and red peppers from plants with 600 to 13,000 parts per million. The chemical composition of the Capsicum species includes a fixed oil, pungent principles, volatile oil, and carotenoid, mostly capsanthin, pigments. An oleoresin is obtained by solvent extraction. Capsicum frutescens L. is much more pungent than Capsicum annuum L.
In breeding chilies, the choice of breeding method depends on the breeding objective and the plant material being used as parents (Greenleaf 1986). The strategy of the chile breeder is to assemble into a cultivar the superior genetic potential for yield, protection against production hazards, and improved quality. Chile cultivars have been developed using selection within introductions and hybridization followed by selection. Hybridization is usually always within a species, but interspecific crosses, especially C. annuum by C. chinense have been accomplished successfully. Selection methods have included mass, single plant, backcross, and pedigree. Single seed descent and haploid breeding have also been applied to chiles. The only breeding technique so far not applicable to chilies is genetic transformation. This is because the technique to regenerate whole chili plants from single cells has not been ascertained. With the success of other solanaceous crops, e.g. tomato and petunia, the parameters necessary for successful regeneration of chile will be forth coming.
Chile plants are considered a self-pollinating crop (Allard 1960). However, the rates of out-crossing (7% to 91%) recorded by several investigators argue that Capsicum should be considered to be facultative cross-pollinating species in field research (Odland and Porter 1941; Franceschetti 1971; Tanksley 1984). The out-crossing is associated with natural insect pollinators. The amount of cross-pollination has an effect not only on the precautions needed for seed production, but also on the breeding methodologies used by the plant breeder (Bosland 1993). Natural pollinators such as insects must be excluded to insure self-pollination.
The commercial production of hybrid chilies has been successful accomplished using hand-emasculation, genic male-sterility, and cytoplasmic male-sterility. Male-sterile chile plants are found as spontaneous mutants in commercial fields. Cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) in chilies was first discovered by Peterson (1958) in C. annuum PI 164835 from India. Unfortunately, Peterson's CMS line is unstable in fluctuating environments, producing pollen at cool temperatures. Some commercial seed companies use the CMS system to produce F1 hybrids.
Other genetic systems that may assist the chile breeder are the use of trisomic and chromosome mapping. Most Capsicum species have 2n = 24 chromosomes. Meiosis is surprisingly regular within interspecific crosses. The similarity in karyotype of the species was illustrated by Ohta (1962). However, cryptic structural hybridity as defined by Stebbins (1971) appears to be functioning in Capsicum.
Pochard (1970) identified primary trisomics that could be distinguished from secondary and tertiary trisomics by their phenotype, frequency, and fertility and by their chromosome configurations in meiosis. Eleven of the 12 possible trisomics could be identified by foliage color, anther/stamen color, and fruit characteristics. Cytologically, only three of the 12 chromosomes in C. annuum differ significantly in length. The other nine are metacentric and have lengths too close to permit identification.
The recent development of molecular marker-assisted selection techniques may provide new tools in the breeding of chilies. Isozyme and molecular markers have been applied to chilies. Usefulness of isozyme markers is restricted to the insufficient polymorphic bands and a limited number of detectable loci. Molecular based DNA markers such as Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP) and Random Amplified Polymorphic DNA (RAPD) are unlimited in numbers. A saturated isozyme and RFLP map of chile has been reported (Prince et al. 1993). The map contains 192 chile and tomato genomic DNA clones with 19 linkage groups with a total coverage of 720 cM. However, specific map positions of 26 RFLP markers in seven linkage groups were not determined and vast regions of the chile genome remain unmapped. This area of research is rapidly adding to our knowledge of chilies and will undoubtedly be important in the future.
A peculiar aspect of chilies is the inability to be regenerated from protoplasts. This limits the technique of genetic transformation. Within other solonaceous crops such as tomato, tobacco, and petunia, excellent progress has been made regenerating plants using genetic transformation to introduce novel genes into the genome. For unexplained reasons, chile has been recalcitrant to being regenerated but many laboratories are addressing this issue. Once this perplexing problem is solved, genetic transformation will be available to introduce novel genes into chilies.
Capsicum species are used fresh or dried, whole or ground, and alone or in combination with other flavoring agents. Capsicum annuum L. is used in sweet bell peppers, paprika, pimento, and other red pepper products. Capsicum frutescens L. is used in Tabasco, Tabasco sauce, and other red chili pepper. Fruits of Capsicum annuum L., paprika types, are widely used as coloring agents. The extracts of Capsicum species have been reported to have antioxidant properties. Paprika is derived from Capsicum annuum L. and is used primarily in the flavoring of garnishes, pickles, meats, barbecue sauces, ketchup, cheese, snack food, dips, chili con came, salads, and sausages. Spanish paprika is called pimento and is generally used for coloring purposes. Chilies and chili pepper from cultivars of Capsicum annuum L. and Capsicum frutescens L. are employed as a flavoring in many foods, such as curry powder and Tabasco sauce. Chili powder is a blend of spices that includes ground chilies. Red or hot peppers from Capsicum annuum L. and Capsicum frutescens L. are the most pungent peppers and are used extensively in Mexican and Italian foods. Cayenne pepper is the ground product derived from the smaller, most pungent Capsicum species.
As a medicinal plant, the Capsicum species has been used as a carminative, digestive irritant, stomachic, stimulant, rubefacient, and tonic. The plants have also been used as folk remedies for dropsy, colic, diarrhea, asthma, arthritis, muscle cramps, and toothache. Capsicum frutescens L. has been reported to have hypoglycemic properties. Prolonged contact with the skin may cause dermatitis and blisters, while excessive consumption can cause gastroenteritis and kidney damage. Paprika and cayenne pepper may be cytotoxic to mammalian cells in vitro. Consumption of red pepper may aggravate symptoms of duodenal ulcers. High levels of ground hot pepper have induced stomach ulcers and cirrhosis of the liver in laboratory animals. Body temperature, flow of saliva, and gastric juices may be stimulated by capsicum peppers.
The medicinal applications of capsaicinoids have brought innovative ideas for their use. Medicinal use of Capsicums has a long history, dating back to the Mayas who used them to treat asthma, coughs, and sore throats. The Aztecs used chile pungency to relieve toothaches. The pharmaceutical industry uses capsaicin as a counter-irritant balm for external application (Carmichael 1991). It is the active ingredient in Heet and Sloan's Liniment, two rubdown liniments used for sore muscles. The capsaicin is being used to alleviate pain. Its mode of action is thought to be from nerve endings releasing a neurotransmitter called substance P. Substance P informs the brain that something painful is occurring. Capsaicin causes an increase in the amount of substance P released. Eventually, the substance P is depleted and further releases from the nerve ending are reduced. Creams containing capsaicin have reduced pain associated with post-operative pain for mastectomy patients and for amputees suffering from phantom limb pain. Prolonged use of the cream has also been found to help reduce the itching of dialysis patients, the pain from shingles (Herpes zoster), and cluster headaches. Further research has indicated that capsaicin cream reduces pain associated with arthritis. The repeated use of the cream apparently counters the production of substance P in the joint, hence less pain. Reducing substance P also helps by reducing long-term inflammation, which can cause cartilage break down.
Capsicums: Innovative uses of an ancient crop CAPSICUM PEPPER Domestic Production of Spices and Herbs Peppers: History and Exploitation of a Serendipitous New
Return of a Panacea - Capsicum Peppers
Allard, R.W. 1960. Principles of plant breeding. Wiley, New York.
Anghiera, P.M. 1493. Decadas de nuevo mundo. (Cited in Andrews 1984).
Andrews, J. 1984. Peppers: the domesticated Capsicums. Univ. of Texas Press, Austin, TX.
Bosland, P.W. 1992. Chiles: a diverse crop. HortTechnology 2:6-10.
Bosland, P.W. 1993. An effective plant field-cage to increase the production of genetically pure chile (Capsicum spp.) seed. HortScience 28:1053.
Bosland, P.W. 1994. Chiles: history, cultivation, and uses. p. 347-366. In: G. Charalambous (ed.), Spices, herbs, and edible fungi. Elsevier Publ., New York.
Bosland, P.W. 1995. Capsicum: a comprehensive bibliography. 3rd ed. The Chile Institute, New Mexico State Univ., Las Cruces.
Bosland, P.W., A.L. Bailey, and J. Iglesias-Olivas. 1988. Capsicum pepper varieties and classification. New Mexico State Univ. Ext. Cir. 530.
Bosland, P.W., J. Iglesias, and M.M. Gonzalez. 1994. 'NuMex Centennial' and 'NuMex Twilight' ornamental chiles. HortScience 29:1090.
Bunnell, R.H. and J.C. Bauernfeind 1962. Chemistry, uses, and properties of carotenoids in foods. Food Technol. 16:36-43.
Carmichael, J.K. 1991. Treatment of herpes zoster and postherpetic neuralgia. Am. Family Physician 44:203-210.
Collins, M.D., L. Mayer-Wasmund, and P.W. Bosland. 1995. Improved method for quantifying capsaicinoids in Capsicum using high-performance liquid chromatography. HortScience 30:137-139.
DeWitt, D. and P.W. Bosland. 1993. The pepper garden. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley.
DeWitt, D. and N. Gerlach. 1990. The whole chile pepper book. Little, Brown, and Co., Boston.
Domenici, P. 1983. The correct way to spell chile. Congressional Record 129 (149) (Nov. 3).
Franceschetti, U. 1971. Natural cross pollination in pepper (Capsicum annuum L.) Proc. Eucarpia Meeting on Genetic and Breeding of Capsicum. Turin, Italy. p. 346-353.
Greenleaf, W.H. 1986. Pepper breeding. p. 67-134. In: Mark J. Bassett (ed.), Breeding vegetable crops. AVI, Westport, CT.
Harkay-Vinkler, M. 1974. Storage experiments with raw material of seasoning paprika with particular reference to the red color pigment components. Acta. Alim. Acad. Sci. Hung. 3:239-249.
Heiser, C.B. 1976. Peppers Capsicum (Solanaceae). p. 265-268. In: N.W. Simmonds (ed.), The evolution of crops plants. Longman Press, London.
Heiser, C.B. and P.G. Smith. 1953. The cultivated Capsicum peppers. Econ. Bot. 7:214-227.
IBPGR. 1983. Genetic resources of Capsicum. Int. Board for Plant Genetic Resources, Rome.
Hoffman, P.G., M.C. Lego, and W.G. Galetto. 1983. Separation and quantitation of red pepper major heat principles by reverse-phase high pressure liquid chromatography. J. Agr. Food Chem. 31:1326-1330.
Kanner, J., S. Harel, D. Palevitch, and I. Ben-gera. 1977. Color retention in sweet paprika powder as affected by moisture contents and ripening stage. J. Food Technol. 12:59-64.
Lantz, E.M. 1943. The carotene and absorbic acid content of peppers. N. Mex. Agr. Expt. Sta. Bul. 306.
Lindsay, K. and P.W. Bosland. 1995. A field study of environmental interaction on pungency. Capsicum Eggplant Newsl. 14:36-38.
MacNeish, R.S. 1964. Ancient Mesoamerican civilization. Science 143:531-537.
Odland, M.L. and A.M. Porter. 1941. A study of natural crossing in pepper (Capsicum frutescens L.) J. Am. Soc. Hort. Sci. 38:585-588.
Ohta, Y. 1962. Genetic studies in the genus Capsicum (in Japanese, English summary). Kihara Inst. Biol. Res, Yokohama, Japan.
Peterson, P.A. 1958. Cytoplasmically inherited male-sterility in Capsicum. Am. Nat. 92:111-119.
Pochard, E. 1970. Description of pepper trisomics (Capsicum annuum L.) in the progeny of a haploid plant (in French, English summary). Ann. Amerlior. Plant. 20:233-256.
Prince, J.P., E. Pochard, and S.D. Tanksley. 1993. Conservation of a molecular linkage map of pepper and comparison of synteny with tomato. Genome 36:404-417.
Reeves, M.J. 1987. Re-evaluation of Capsicum color data. J. Food. Sci. 52:1047-1049.
Scoville, W.L. 1912. Note on Capsicum. J. Am. Pharm. Assoc. 1:453.
Smith, P.G. and C.B. Heiser. 1957. Taxonomy of Capsicum sinense Jacq. and the geographic distribution of the cultivated Capsicum species. Bul. Torrey Bot. Club 84:413-420.
Smith, P.G., B. Villalon, and P.L. Villa. 1987. Horticultural classification of pepper grown in the United States. HortScience 22:11-13.
Somos, A. 1984. The paprika. Akademiai Kiado, Budapest.
Stebbins, G.L. 1971. Processes of organic evolution. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
Tanksley, S.D. 1984. High rates of cross-pollination in chile pepper. HortScience 19:580-582.
Wafer, L. 1699. A new voyage and description of the isthmus of america. p. 107. (Reprinted from the original edition. Franklin, NY).
Wall, M.M. and P.W. Bosland. 1993. The shelf-life of chiles and chile containing products. p. 487-500. In: G. Charalambous (ed.), Shelf life studies of foods and beverages, chemical, biological, and nutritional aspects. Elsevier Publishing, New York.
Woodbury, J.E. 1980. Determination of Capsicum pungency by high pressure liquid chromatography and spectrofluorometric detection. J. Assn. Offic. Anal. Chem. 63:556-558.
Important Shipping Information
Orders to be shipped outside the continental USA cannot be processed using this website, as shipping charges are significantly different, this includes Alaska, Hawaii, and the U.S. territories. In addition, we cannot ship to Post Office Boxes or FPO/APO addresses. Please call our toll free number (800) 330-6450 for further information, Mon. thru Thurs. 9:00 am – 3:00 pm (PST).
Failure to comply with the above will result in a refund of
the purchase price less a $1.25 USD processing charge.