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Chili Pepper

(Capsicum annuum, C. Frutescens, C. chinense)

Other Names: Murch, Cayenne, Capsicum, Capsiacin, Jolokia, Paprika, Pimenta

Chili peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since about 7500 BC. They were domesticated there between 5200 and 3400 BC, one of the first cultivated crops in the Americas. Chili peppers are thought to have been domesticated at least five times by prehistoric people in different parts of South, Central and North America, from Peru in the south to Mexico in the north and parts of Colorado and New Mexico.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.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.

The fruit is eaten cooked or raw for its fiery hot flavour which is concentrated along the top of the pod. The stem end of the pod has glands which produce the capsiacin, which then flows down through the pod. Removing the seeds and inner membranes is thus effective at reducing the heat of a pod.Well-known dishes with a strong chili flavour are Mexican salsas, Tex-Mex chili con carne, and Indian curries. Chili powder is a spice made of the dried ground chilis but with small amounts of cayenne added for heat. Bottled hot sauces such as Tabasco sauce are made from Tabasco chilies, similar to cayenne, which may also be fermented.Korean, Indian, Indonesian, Szechuan and Thai cuisines are particularly associated with the chili pepper, although the plant was unknown in Asia until Europeans introduced it there.Sambal is dipping sauce made from chili peppers with any other ingredients such as garlic, onion, shallots, salt, vinegar and sugar. It is very popular in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Red chilies are very rich in vitamin C and provitamin A. Yellow and especially green chilies (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 and high in 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. The pain caused by capsiacin stimulates the brain to produce endorphins, natural opioids which act as analgesics and produce a sense of well-being.Birds do not have the same sensitivity to capsiacin as mammals, as capsiacin acts on a specific nerve receptor in mammals, and avian nervous systems are rather different. Chili peppers are in fact a favourite food of many birds living in the chili peppers' natural range. The flesh of the peppers provides the birds with a nutritious meal rich in vitamin C.

Chili peppers needs plenty of warmth and sun. Minimum temperature 10 °C.

Chili peppers are sensitive to the cold and generally prefer to grow in a well-drained, sandy or silt-loam soil. Pepper plants can also be grown in containers.

Propagation is usually by seed. They germinate in 5 to 20 days depending on the variety. They are ready to transplant 2 to 3 weeks after germination and will flower in another 4 to 5 weeks.

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