The chili pepper, chilli pepper, or chili, is the fruit of the plants from the genus Capsicum, which are members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. Even though chilis may be thought of as a vegetable, their culinary usage is generally as a spice, the part of the plant that is usually harvested is the fruit, and botany considers the plant a berry shrub.
The name, which is spelled chili, chile, or chilli, comes from Nahuatl chīlli via the Spanish word chile. The term chili in most of the world refers exclusively to the smaller, hot types of Capsicum. The mild larger types are called bell pepper in the United States, Canada (and sometimes the United Kingdom), sweet pepper in Britain and Ireland, capsicum in Pakistan India and Australasia, and paprika in many European countries. Bell peppers are often named simply by their colour (e.g. green or red pepper).
Chili peppers are thought to have been domesticated at least five times by prehistoric peoples in different parts of South and North America, from Peru in the south to Mexico in the north and parts of Colorado and New Mexico (Ancient Pueblo Peoples).
Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter them (in the Caribbean), and called them "peppers" because of their similarity in taste (though not in appearance) with the Old World peppers of the Piper genus.
Chilies were cultivated around the globe after Columbus' time. 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 Mexico, at the time the Spanish colony that controlled commerce with Asia, chili peppers spread rapidly into the Philippines and then to India, China, Korea and Japan with the aid of European sailors. The new spice was quickly incorporated into the local cuisines.
An alternate sequence for chili peppers' spread has the Portuguese picking up the pepper from Spain, and thence to India, as described by Lizzie Collingham in her book Curry. The evidence provided is that 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). Collingham also describes the journey of chili peppers from India, through Central Asia and Turkey, to Hungary, where it became the national spice in the form of paprika.
There are speculations about pre-Columbian chili peppers in Europe. In an archaeological dig in the block of St. Botulf in Lund, archaeologists claimed to have found a Capsicum frutescens in a layer dating to the 13th century. Hjelmqvist also claims that Capsicum was described by the Greek Therophrasteus (370-286 BC). He also mentions other antique sources. The Roman poet Martialis (around the 1st century) described "Piper crudum" (raw pepper) to be long and containing seeds. The description of the plants does not fit pepper (Piper nigrum), which does not grow well in European climates.
The Black Habanero or as it is sometimes known, the Chocolate Habanero or Habanero Negra, is thought to be the closest to the original peppers that grew in the South American coastal plains. It is known to gourmets but rarely available, due to its long maturity and general rarity. Seeds are more readily available today but care is needed when purchasing as many sub species are sold under the same name.
The most common species of chili peppers are:
Though there are only a few commonly used species, there are many cultivars and methods of preparing chili peppers that have different common names for culinary use. Bell peppers, for example, are the same cultivar of C. annuum; immature peppers being green and mature peppers being red. In the same species are the jalapeño, the poblano (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.
The substances that gives 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 pepper spray.
When consumed, capsaicinoids bind with pain receptors in the mouth and throat that are normally 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.
The "heat" of chili peppers is measured in Scoville units (SHU). Bell peppers rank at 0 (SHU), New Mexico green chilis at about 1,500 SHU, jalapeños at 3,000–6,000 SHU, and habaneros at 300,000 SHU. The record for the hottest chili pepper was assigned by the Guinness Book of Records to the Naga Jolokia, measuring over 1,000,000 SHU. Pure capsaicin, which is a hydrophobic, colorless, odorless, and crystalline to waxy solid at room temperature, measures 16,000,000 SHU.
The chili has a long association with Mexican cuisine as later adapted into Tex-Mex cuisine. Although unknown in Asia until Europeans introduced it there, chili has also become a part of the Korean, Indian, Indonesian, Szechuan, Thai and other cooking traditions. Its popularity has seen it adopted into many cuisines of the World.
Chili is often sold worldwide as a spice in dried and powdered form. In the United States, it is often made from the Mexican chile ancho variety, but with small amounts of cayenne added for heat. In the Southwest United States, dried ground chili peppers, cumin, garlic and oregano is often known as chili powder. Chipotles are dry, smoked red (ripe) jalapeños.
Chili peppers are also often used around the world to make a wide variety of sauces, known as hot sauce, chili sauce, or pepper sauce. There are countless recipes.
Indian cooking has multiple uses for chilis, from snacks like bajji where the chilis are dipped in batter and fried to the notoriously hot vindaloo. Chilis are also dried and roasted and salted for later use (ooramirapakaya meaning chillies soaked in sour buttermilk and salt and dried ) as a side dish for rice varieties like daddojanam / Thayir sadam (curd rice) or Daal Rice (Rice mixed with some kind of cooked lentils). The soaked and dried chillies are also used as a seasoning ingredient in recipes like kootu. In Turkish or Ottoman cuisine, chilis are widely used where it is known as Kırmızı Biber (Red Pepper) or Acı Biber (Hot Pepper). Sambal is dipping sauce made from chili peppers with many other ingredients such as garlic, onion, shallots, salt, vinegar and sugar, which is very popular in Indonesia and Malaysia. Chili powder is an important spice in Persian cuisine and is used moderately in a variety of dishes.
In Korean cuisine, the leaves are also used to produce kimchi. (풋고추잎 깍두기).
There are entire breeds of chili pepper which are not intended for consumption at all, but are grown only for their decorative qualities, generally referred to as "ornamental peppers". Some of them are too hot for most common cooking techniques, or simply don't taste good. Some are grown for both decoration and food. Either way, they tend to have peppers of unusual shapes or colors. Examples of these include Thai Ornamental, Black Pearl, Marble, Numex Twilight, and the Medusa pepper. is a green plant which produces fruit starting purple, then ripening to yellow, orange, and red. Black Pearl has black leaves and round black fruit that ripen to a bright red. In India, the chili, along with lime is used to ward off evil spirits and is often seen in vehicles and in homes for that purpose. It is also used to check the evil eye and remove its effects in Hinduism as people will also be asked to spit into a handful of chilis kept in that plate, which are then thrown into fire. If the chilis make a noise - as they should - then there is no case of "drishti" (evil eye); if on the other hand they don't make any sound, then the spell of the evil eye is removed in the fire.
Chili peppers are a popular item in food as well. They are rich in vitamin C. 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.
Despite the country's mapped shape resembling a chili pepper, the name of this 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 is one of the Spanish-speaking countries where chilis are known as ají, a word of Taíno origin.
There is also some disagreement about whether it is proper to use the word "pepper" when discussing chili peppers because "pepper" originally referred to the genus Piper, not Capsicum. Despite this dispute, a sense of pepper referring to Capsicum is supported by English dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary (sense 2b of pepper) and Merriam-Webster. Furthermore, the word "pepper" is commonly used in the botanical and culinary fields in the names of different types of chili peppers.