Family: Solanaceae, Capsicum species

Capsicum annuum L.

Capsicum frutescens L.

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Capsicum pepper refers primarily to Capsicum annuum L. and Capsicum frutescens L., plants used in the manufacture of selected commercial products known for their pungency and color. Capsicum annuum L. is a herbaceous annual that reaches a height of one meter and has glabrous or pubescent lanceolate leaves, white flowers, and fruit that vary in length, color, and pungency depending upon the cultivar. Native to America, this plant is cultivated almost exclusively in Europe and the United States. Capsicum frutcens L. is a short-lived perennial with woody stems that reach a height of two meters, glabrous or pubescent leaves, has two or more greenish-white flowers per node, and extremely pungent fruit. This plant is cultivated in the tropics and warmer regions of the United States.

The reported life zone for capsicum peppers is 7 to 29 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.3 to 4.6 meters and a soil pH of 4.3 to 8.7 (4.1-31). Capsicum species are cold sensitive and generally grow best in well-drained, sandy or silt-loam soil. Plantings are established by seeding or transplanting. Flowering usually occurs three months after planting. Hot and dry weather is desirable for fruit ripening. Fruit is generally handpicked as it ripens, and then allowed to dry in the sun, although artifical drying is often employed in Europe and the United States. The fruit may be ground intact or after the removal of seeds, placenta parts, and stalks, increasing the fruit color and lowering the pungency (4.6-66, 4.6-67).

The level of pungency of the Capsicum species depends upon the concentration of capsaicinoids, primarily of capsaicin, in the fruit. Capsicum peppers are classified comnercially by the concentration of capsaicinoids, since confusion about the biological identities of some varieties has made other methods unreliable. Paprika comes from plants with 10 to 30 parts per million capsaicinoids, chili peppers from plants with 30 to 600 parts per million, and red peppers from plants with 600 to 13,000 parts per million (1.5-152). The chemical composition of the Capsicum species includes a fixed oil, pungent principles, volatile oil, and carotenoid, mostly capsanthin, pigments (6.1-65, 2.8-45). An oleoresin is obtained by solvent extraction. Capsicum frutescens L. is much more pungent than Capsicum annuum L.

Capsicum species are used fresh or dried, whole or ground, and alone or in combination with other flavoring agents. Capsicum annuum L. is used in sweet bell peppers, paprika, pimento, and other red pepper products. Capsicum frutescens L. is used in tabasco, tabasco sauce, and other red chili pepper. Fruits of Capsicum annuum L., paprika types, are widely used as coloring agents. The extracts of Capsicum species have been reported to have antioxidant properties (11.1-126). Paprika is derived from Capsicum annuum L. and is used prinarily in the flavoring of garnishes, pickles, meats, barbecue sauces, ketchup, cheese, snack food, dips, chili con came, salads, and sausages (11.1-128). Spanish paprika is called pimento and is generally used for coloring purposes (14.1-10). Chilies and chili pepper from cultivars of Capsicum annuum L. and Capsicum frutescens L. are employed as a flavoring in many foods, such as curry powder and tabasco sauce. Chili powder is a blend of spices that includes ground chilies. Red or hot peppers from Capsicum annuum L. and Capsicum frutescens L. are the most pungent peppers and are used extensively in Mexican and Italian foods. Cayenne pepper is the ground product derived from the smaller, most pungent Capsicum species.

As a medicinal plant, the Capsicum species has been used as a carminative, digestive irritant, stomachic, stimulant, rubefacient, and tonic. The plants have also been used as folk remedies for dropsy, colic, diarrhea, asthma, arthritis, muscle cramps, and toothache. Capsicum frutescens L. has been reported to have hypoglycemic properties (7.1-21). Prolonged contact with the skin may cause dermatitis and blisters, while excessive consumption can cause gastroenteritis and kidney damage (11.1-101). Paprika and cayenne pepper may be cytotoxic to mammalian cells in vitro (7.8-25). Consumption of red pepper may aggravate symptons of duodenal ulcers (7.8-55). High levels of ground hot pepper have induced stomach ulcers and cirrhosis of the liver in laboratory animals (6.1-65). Body temperature, flow of saliva, and gastric juices may be stimulated by capsicum peppers (14.1-35).

Other Capsicum species of some importance include Capsicum chinense, Capsicum pendulum, Capsicum pubescens, and Capsicum minimum. Black and white pepper come from Piper nigrens L., of the Piperaceae family. The name pimento is sometimes used in reference to allspice, Pimento dioica (L.) Merrill, a native of the West Indies and a member of the Myrtaceae family.

Capsicum annuum L. and Capsicum frutescens L. are generally recognized as safe for human consumption as spices/natural flavorings and as plant extracts/oleoresins (21 CFR sections 182.10, [1982]).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997