Chili Species

To many, a chili pepper simply describes a small member of the Capsicum family that is ‘hot’ to the taste.

To the more adventurous lovers of the fiery pod, there are many different varients known by common names such as Jalapeno, Habanero and Scotch Bonnet with varying degrees of heat as determined by the Scoville Scale.

What is less well known however (with the exception of real chili devotees) is that each chili type comes from one of five main species of Capsicum (taken from the Greek word Kapto – ‘to bite’).

These five species are as follows:

Capsicum annum

Annums can be divided into two types, hot and sweet (or mild) and are the most cultivated throughout the world because they cross pollinate so easily. Many of the most commonly used chili types in North America and Europe are annums such as Ancho, Cayenne, Hungarian, Jalepeno and Thai Hot.

Capsicum baccatum

This species is now found throughout South America and believed to have originated in either Bolivia or Peru. It is particularly popular in Brazil, Argentina and Chile, but is rarely found in the United States, Asia or Europe. Typically, the fruits are long and thin with cream coloured seed. Perhaps the best known type is the Aji.

Capiscum chinense
The translation of the name is ‘from China’ however this is not the case. The species in fact originated from the Amazon and moved into the Caribbean followed by Central and South America. The confusion in name is down to a Dutch Botanist called Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin who believed China to be its origin when he named it in 1776. Common varients of the chinense are Habanero, Scotch Bonnet, Naga Jolokia and Aji dulce.

Capiscum frutescens
The name derives from the Latin meaning ‘shrub or bush’ and is native to the tropics. The origin is not totally clear, although claims are made that the Amazon basin is most likely. This species includes the famous Tabasco, named after the Mexican City of the same name. Other variants include Birdseye (common in Asia and Europe and often found in Thai cooking), Piri Piri and Malaguenta.

Capsicum pubescens
A medium sized pepper common in South America and originating in Bolivia. Pods are fleshy and usually very hot. The name drives from the Latin meaning “hairy”. They have a long growing season with the most common types being Rocoto and Manzanoi