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Synonyms: cayenne pepper, chili, chilli pepper, bird's eye chili

botanical name: Capsicum annuum var. acuminatum and Capsicum frutescens

family: Paprika



Chili is also called chilli pepper, red pepper or hot pepper, although the plant is not related to pepper botanically speaking. Ground chili pods are known as cayenne pepper. Tabasco is made from the pods of the species Capsicum frutescens. Chili is native to the Caribbean and Central and South America, where it has been raised for thousands of years. Spanish discoverers brought the plant to Europe in the 15th century.


Chilis are grown today in many tropical areas, from Central America to northern South America, and in Southeast Asia and Africa. Among the main producers of chilli are China, India and Pakistan.





The fruits are sold primarily dried, rarely fresh.


Appearance, taste, characteristics


Chili is related to the paprika used for seasoning, sweet or hot; both plants are Capsicum species and belong botanically to the nightshade family (Solanaceae). The chili fruit is considerably smaller than the paprika, however. The wild form is only 1-3 cm long, but there are meanwhile varieties that grow up to 7 cm.


Chili fruits are shaped like pods, tapered and shiny. At first the pod is green; when it ripens it is yellow, orange or red. Chili is the hottest of all spices. It has a sharp burning taste and irritates the nose. It is markedly hotter than paprika.


Paprika and chili are classified according to their spicy heat from 1 to 10 on the Scoville scale. The number indicates the amount of capsaicin present. Most of the varieties of chili are rated in the range of 5-9. Possibly the hottest chili, rated 10, is the habanero (Capsicum chinense).




The sharpness of chili is due to the high capsaicin content, which in some cases is 20 times more than that of paprika and can constitute up to 1% of the fruit. The amount of capsaicin depends on the variety and on the degree of ripeness. It is augmented in the seeds and the dividing membranes of the pod.


Chilis also contain other secondary plant substances such as carotenoids and flavonoids.


Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions


Dried chili pods stored airtight will keep for a long time.


Fresh pods should have a smooth outer skin and should be shiny and firm. In the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator they will keep for about a week. Chilis can also be frozen, but they should first be blanched, as otherwise they will lose their aroma and sharpness.


Presumed effect on health


Cayenne pepper, i.e. dried chili, is claimed to relieve colds and fever.


The sharp taste of chili stems from the capsaicin it contains. When eaten, it increases the production of saliva and gastric juice and stimulates the digestive organs. In large doses, however, capsaicin irritates the skin and mucous membranes. It causes a painful burning, and contact with the eyes in particular should be avoided.


Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation


When preparing fresh chili you should wear gloves to protect your skin. If you have eaten something that is too hot, water will not help the strong burning in your throat; in this case milk, yoghurt or cream is better.


Chili is sold chiefly dried as a whole pod, coarsely crushed or ground. Ground pods are called cayenne pepper. Fresh pods are seldom sold here.


Chili is used predominantly for fiery-hot barbecue sauces and meat dishes, such as goulash, pork roast and lamb roast. Used sparingly, it is suited as a seasoning for sauces and soups and especially in potato or fish soups and bean stews. Chili is also popular for rounding off the flavour of tinned preserves and pickles.


This seasoning is used most in East-Asian and Mexican cuisine: consider the Mexican sauces (moles) or the traditional bean dish chile con carne.


Chili is also the basic substance of spicy Tabasco sauces and Indian sambal oelek. Only a few drops of these extremely hot seasoning sauces usually suffice for a dish. Many spice blends also contain chili; for example, it is in curry, in barbecue seasonings and in many special piquant seasonings for Indian cuisine.


"Chili powder" contains oregano, paprika and garlic powder in addition to chili. Under this name there are also blends with caraway, garlic powder and marjoram.


Seasoning tip


Chilis should be added in only the smallest amounts and always cooked with the food. Do not add them to hot fat, because they will develop bitter constituents. Chili harmonizes with almost every other seasoning.




Capsaicin is used topically for rheumatic complaints, painful muscle tension and local injuries due to cold. For this purpose minimal amounts of the substance are added to tinctures, salves, and plasters or patches.






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