Native to North, Central and South America, the Capsicum annuum is the most common and extensively cultivated of the five domesticated capsicums having been domesticated over 5,000 years ago. There are over 200 common names in use for this species which comes in a broad range of shapes with varieties that range from mild and sweet such as bell peppers or Chilhuacle Negro (1,200 – 2,000 SHU) through to more spicy chillies such as the Bangalore Whippet’s Tail (20,000 – 50,000 SHU)
This unique Capsicum species originating in South America, is divided into two major groups – wild and domesticated. Baccatum means ‘berry-like’ with the wild form tending to produce small, erect, deciduous pods, whereas the domesticated form will produce larger, pendant and persistent fruit. Cultivated over 4500 years in Bolivia and southern Peru, evidence suggests it had an important role it had in ancient Incan society and is still a popular and key ingredient in Peruvian cusuin today.
Capsicum chinense “Yellow Lantern Chilli”
Capsicum chinense is a species of chili pepper native to the Americas, with varieties well known for their exceptional heat such as the worlds hottest, the Carolina Reaper. There is some dispute over whether it is part of the species C. annuum. The name meaning “Chinese capsicum” is misleading as all Capsicum species originated in the New World. Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin (1727–1817), a Dutch botanist, erroneously named the species in 1776, believing they had originated in China.
Likely to have originated in South or Central America, C. frutescens still grows wild across these regions today. It is believed that C. frutescens is the ancestor to the Capsicum chinense species and is sometimes considered to be part of the species Capsicum annuum. There is little variation in the pods of Capsicum frutescens (frutescens translates as “bushy”), with varieties including the Tabasco pepper used in the famous Tobasco Sauce and the populare Bird’s Eye Chilli.
Found mainly in Central and South America, pubescens, meaning ‘hairy’ is a reference to the characteristically hairy leaves, which along with the black seeds (instead of white) and purple flowers (instead of white) distinguishes this species from the other Capsicum. As well as being the least cultivated and least widespread of the Capsicum species, C. pubescens cannot cross pollinate with any of the othe Capsicums and can withstand much cooler temperatures than the othe Capsicums.