The Discovery of Chillies

The Discovery of Chillies

In the northern temperate countries the fruits are hot cultivars of C. annuum, with the exception of ‘Tabasco’ grown in Louisiana, which is a cultivar of C. frutescens. Hot forms of C. annuum are also grown in elsewhere in the tropics. In South America they can be C. baccatum var. pendulum and C. chinense at the lower altitudes; the latter also occurs in the Caribbean; and C. pubescens at higher altitudes in the Andes; it also occurs in the mountains of southern Mexico and Central America.

Among the most pungent of the chillies are the small fruits of C. frutescens, which is cultivated and has become naturalized in many tropical countries. The fruits are sometimes known as bird chillies. This is the species which is exported from Zanzibar and other parts of East Africa, which has the reputation of producing the most pungent of all chillies. Successful trials in Malaita in the British Solomon Islands, have encouraged the cultivation of chillies on a small commercial scale since 1971.

It should not be confused with black and white pepper from Piper nigrum, long pepper from Piper longum, Jamaica pepper, pimento or allspice from Pimento, dioica, or Melegueta or Guinea pepper from Aframomum melegueta.

Sweet peppers, sometimes known as green or bell peppers, have the mildest flavour with little of the pungent principle. They are forms of Capsicum annuum var. annuum. They are generally used green, but sometimes they are used in the fully ripe stage when they are red, or more occasionally yellow. They are eaten raw in salads or are cooked in various ways; they are often stuffed with meat and are sometimes pickled. They can hardly be called a spice, but are more of a vegetable.

Extracts of chillies are used in the manufacture of ginger beer and other beverages. Capsicum from oleoresin C. frutescens is used in medicine, internally as a powerful stimulant and carminative, and externally as a counter-irritant in the treatment of diseases such as rheumatism.

The brilliant red powder is used as a flavouring and garnish, particularly on pale-coloured foods such as eggs, cheese, potatoes and some sauces. Hungarian paprika, which has long pointed fruits, is rather more pungent than the Spanish paprika; it is a constituent of the famous Hungarian goulash. Chillies are the dried ripe fruits of pungent forms.

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