All About Chili
The chili pepper, chile pepper, or chilli pepper, or simply chilli, or chile, is the fruit of the plant Capsicum from the nightshade family, Solanaceae. The name comes from Nahuatl via the Spanish word chile.
Chile peppers and their various cultivars originate in the Americas; they are now grown around the world because they are widely used as spices or vegetables in cuisine, and even as medicine.
Although most chili peppers are indigenous to South America, they are used and grown around the world. Hot peppers are used in abundance in Mexican, South American, Indonesian, African and Oriental cooking, while the milder peppers are common in European and North American recipes. And, peppers have been cultivated for thousands of years for their medicinal properties, known for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, in addition to their culinary purposes.
Chile peppers are popular in food. They are rich in vitamin C and are believed to have many beneficial effects on health. The pain caused by capsaicin stimulates the brain to produce endorphins, natural opioids which act as analgesics and produce a sense of well-being. Psychologist Paul Rozin suggests that eating chiles 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.
Birds do not have the same sensitivity to capsaicin as mammals, as capsaicin acts on a specific nerve receptor in mammals, and avian nervous systems are rather different. Chile peppers are in fact a favorite food of many birds living in the chile peppers' natural range. The flesh of the peppers provides the birds with a nutritious meal rich in vitamin C. In return, the seeds of the peppers are distributed by the birds, as they drop the seeds while eating the pods or the seeds pass through the digestive tract unharmed. This relationship is theorized to have promoted the evolution of the protective capsaicin.
There are many species of chili peppers and here are the most common varieties:The most common species of chile peppers are:
- Capsicum annuum, which includes many common varieties such as bell peppers, paprika, jalapeños, and the chiltepin
- Capsicum frutescens, which includes the cayenne and tabasco peppers
- Capsicum chinense, which includes the hottest peppers such as the naga, habanero and Scotch bonnet
- Capsicum pubescens, which includes the South American rocoto peppers
- Capsicum baccatum, which includes the South American aji peppers
Though there are only a few commonly used species, there are many cultivars and methods of preparing chile peppers that have different common names for culinary use. Green and red bell peppers, for example, are the same cultivar of C. annuum, the green ones being immature. In the same species are the jalapeño, the poblano, ancho (which is a dried poblano), New Mexico, Anaheim, Serrano, and other cultivars. Jamaicans, Scotch bonnets, and habaneros are common varieties of C. chinense. The species C. frutescens appears as chilies de arbol, aji, pequin, tabasco, cayenne, cherry peppers, malagueta and others.
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.