Providing Horticultural Knowledge and Products for over 30 years!

Peppers - A Short Study


Our pungent peppers of hot sauce, picante and Pico de Gallo are misnamed. Since it is increasingly popular to do so, we shall also blame Columbus. The Jewish gentleman from Genoa sailed to the Orient (so he thought) to find black pepper, other rare spices, and fortune. Instead, he found something far better, Capsicum, but still called it pepper. Actually, he used the Spanish word for pepper.  The names the aboriginals used for the pungent fruits also live on.

The natives Columbus encountered called it, aji, which is still used in the Caribbean as well as South America. The Aztec name has given us the word, chile. 

******'Chile de Arbol' 


Taxonomy of Capsicum: 
The unique place held by the peppers, Capsicum, in the plant kingdom is as follows:
 Division: Magnoliophyta (Angiosperms)
    Class: Magnoliopsida (Dicotyledons)
       Order: Solanales
          Family: Solanaceae
             Genus: Capsicum L.
                Domesticated species include: C. annuum, C. baccatum, C. chinense & C. pubescens
While there are four species in general cultivation, the most common one in gardens or grocery stores in the U.S. is C. annuum, with three recognized varieties. Its name notwithstanding, C. annuum is actually a perennial, not an annual. Its perennial nature is best appreciated in the frost-free regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America, or in a greenhouse. 
Botanical Varieties of Capsicum annuum L.
Common Name
Capsicum annuum L. var. annuum Capsicum baccatum auct. non L.
Capsicum frutescens sensu Standl., non L. 
Bell Pepper, Cayenne, Chile Pepper, Hot Pepper, Jalapeño
Capsicum annuum L. var. frutescens (L.) Kuntze Capsicum frutescens L.  Tabasco, Tabasco Pepper
Capsicum annuum L. var. glabriusculum (Dunal) Heiser & Pickersgill Capsicum annuum var. aviculare (Dierbach) D'Arcy & Eshbaugh
Capsicum annuum var. minus (Fingerhuth) Shinners 
Bird Pepper, Chile Piquin, Chiltecpin, Chiltepin, Piquin, Tepin

In addition, many more species of Capsicum have been identified, all native to the New World:

Species of Capsicum
Currently Accepted Species
annuum L.
Colombia to S United States
baccatum L.
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Peru
buforum Hunziker
campylopodium Sendt.
S Brazil
cardenasii Heiser & Smith
chacoense Hunziker
Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay
chinense Jacq.
Caribbean, Central & South America
coccineum (Rusby) Hunziker
Bolivia, Peru
cornutum (Hiern) Hunziker
South Brazil
dimorphum (Miers) O. K.
dusenii Bitter
SE Brazil
eximium Hunziker
Argentina, Bolivia
glapagoensis Hunziker
geminifolium (Dammer) Hunziker
Colombia, Ecuador
hookerianum (Miers) O. K.
lanceolatum (Greenm.) Morton & Standley
Mexico, Guatemala, 
leptopodum (Dunal) O. K.
minutiflorum (Rusby) Hunziker
Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay
mirabile Mart ex. Sendt
S Brazil
parvifolium Sendt.
Colombia, NE Brazil, Venezuela
praetermissum Heiser & Smith
S Brazil
pubescens Ruiz & Pavon
Central & South America
scolnikianum Hunziker
schottianum Sendt.
(includesC. flexuosum Sendt.)
Argentina, S Brazil, SE Paraguay
tomentosum Eshbaugh & Smith 
(C. eximium var. tomentosum
Eshbaugh & Smith)
Argentina, Bolivia
tovarii Eshbaugh, Smith & Nickrent
villosum Sendt.
S Brazil
Invalid Capsicum Species:
C. anomalum, C. breviflorum & C. ciliatum
This table is based on the works of Heiser, Hunziker, Eshbaugh, Pickersgill & others.

Ethnobotany of Capsicum

One aspect of ethnobotany is an examination of the names given to plants and how pre-industrial cultures have classified the flora of their surroundings. Nahuatl is one of the best known pre-Columbian languages of the New World. It was and still is spoken by peoples in central Mexico, by the Aztecs and those they conquered.  This is a glossary of Nahuatl terms associated with Capsicum and its edible fruits.  Many of  these words are still used in Mexico:

Chilaquiles - a dish made from torn pieces of tortillas, chiles, epazote, etc. - from chilli (chile) and quilitl (greens, herbs)

Chilate - a drink made from chiles, with cacao and ground, toasted corn - from chilli (chile) and atl (water)

Chilchote - a green-fruited Capsicum - from chilchotl (green chile)

Chilcostle - a yellow-fruited Capsicum - from chilli (chile) and cóztic (yellow)

Chile - the edible fruit of Capsicum - from chilli (chile), itself possibly derived from chíltic (red)

Chilhuaque - dried chile - from chilli (chile) and huaqui (dried)

Chilmole - a thin chile "soup" in which meats and/or beans are cooked - from chilli (chile) and molli (chile sauce)

Chilocle - a drink made with pulque, chile and other ingredients - from chilli (chile) and octli (wine)

Chipotle - variant of chilpotle

Chilpoctle - variant of chilpotle

Chilpotle - a pepper dried and cured by exposure to smoke - from chilli (chile) and poctli (smoke)

Chiltecpin -  the name of Capsicum annuum L. var. glabriusculum, a shrubby plant with small fruits, also known as: Bird Pepper, Chile Piquin, Chiltepin, Piquin, Tepin - from chilli (chile) and tecpin (flea)

Chiltepin - see chiltecpin

Chiltipin - variant of chiltecpin - from chilli (chile) and tipitzin (small)

Chilzolote - a dried or old chile - from chilli (chile) and zoloa (to make old)

Chincuayo - a wild Capsicum with violet petals - from tzintli (tail), cuáhuitl (tree) and yo (possessive ending)

Cócoc - spicy, that which burns the mouth

Guacamole - a mixture of avocado and chiles - from ahuácatl (avocado) and molli (mole or chile sauce)

Pétztic - brilliant, fulgent, polished

Tonalchile - a green-fruited Capsicum - from tonalli (heat from the sun) and chilli (chile) 

Tornachile - see tonalchile


Another aspect of ethnobotany  is an examination of the uses of a plant by a culture.  Aside from being edible and nutritious, the fruits of Capsicum are reputed to have numerous medicinal uses.  For example, the following applications have been recorded for Cayenne Pepper:
"1.  The ability to prevent or even stop a heart attack by increasing heart action without raising blood pressure 
2. Thins blood, reducing the risk of stroke.
3. Acts as an internal disinfectant it can detoxify the colon and help with eliminative functions 
4. Topical pain reliever.
5. If you have a cut it can stop the bleeding.
6. Relieves pain from stomach ulcers by creating more mucous and coating the wall of the stomach. 
7. Can knock out cold and flu miseries.
8. Used as a gargle, it can relieve sore throat pain. 
9. Diabetes may take it to lower their blood sugar levels.
10. Cayenne is also very high in vitamin C so it acts as a preventative against respiratory infections and can help strengthen the immune system.
11. It has also been proposed that the capsaicinoids might be useful in fighting cancer."
This page is designed for informational or educational purposes only and has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to promote any specific products, or to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health-care professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or symptom.

Heat Scales:

The pungency of a particular fruit depends not only on its genetic makeup, but also on many physical and cultural factors. Capsaicin content varies depending on where on the plant the fruit is located; when in the growing season it matures; soil type; nutrients available at the root zone; quality, quantity and frequency of irrigation or rainfall; and amount of sunlight received by the plant. 

Quantifying the relative heat content of peppers was a part of the vocabulary of the Aztecs.  Their Nahuatl language contains the following colorful expressions of taste bud pain:

Nahuatl - Pepper Heat Scale
very hot
very, very hot
brilliant hot
extremely hot
runaway hot
Adapted from: http://www.bronxmall.com/norwoodnews/past/061500/features/page3.html
A more modern method of determining the heat content of the fruits was developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912. In the chart below, a range of values is given when several testings of a cultivar have yielded varying heat content. Where only one value is given, it indicates the result of a single test.
Scoville Heat Unit Scale
Pepper Variety
Scoville Heat Units
100% Capsaicin
Dorset Naga (C. chinense
900,000 ~ 923,000
Naga Jolokia (C. chinense
Red Savina Habanero (C. chinense
350,000 ~ 577,000
Habanero, Scotch Bonnet (all C. chinense
150,000 ~ 325,000
Bird's Eye (C. annuum)
100,000 ~ 225,000
Jamaican Hot (C. annuum)
100,000 ~ 200,000
Carolina Cayenne (C. annuum)
100,000 ~ 125,000
85,000 ~ 115,000
Thai (C. annuum)
50,000 ~ 100,000
50,000 ~ 75,000
Chile Piquin, Chiltecpin, Chiltepin, 
Piquin, Tepin (all C. annuum)
40,000 ~ 75,000
Santaka, Super Chile
40,000 ~ 50,000
Aji (C. baccatum), Jaloro, 
Tabasco (C. annuum v. frutescens)
30,000 ~ 50,000
Mitla (C. annuum)
Aji Escabeche (C. baccatum)
Chile de Arbol (C. annuum)
15,000 ~ 30,000
Manzano (C. annuum)
12,000 ~ 30,000
Long Thick Cayenne (C. annuum)
Cayenne (C. annuum)
8,000 ~ 50,000
Hidalgo Serrano (C. annuum)
6,000 ~ 17,000
Hot Wax, Puya, Wax (C. annuum)
5,000 ~ 10,000
Primavera Jalapeño (C. annuum)
NuMex Joe E. Parker (C. annuum)
Serrano (C. annuum)
4,000 ~ 23,000
Chipolte, Jalapeño (C. annuum)
2,500 ~ 8,000
Guajillo, Mirasol, Sandia (all C. annuum)
2,500 ~ 5,000
Pasilla (C. annuum)
2,000 ~ 5,500
1,500 ~ 2,500
Ancho, Española, Mulato, 
Poblano (all C. annuum)
1,000 ~ 2,000
Pulla (C. annuum)
700 ~ 3,000
Coronado (C. annuum)
700 ~ 1,000
Anaheim, NuMex Big Jim (all C. annuum)
500 ~ 2,500
New Mexico (C. annuum)
500 ~ 1,000
El Paso, Santa Fe Grande (all C. annuum)
500 ~ 700
1 PPM (part per milllion) Capsaicin
Pepperoncini (C. annuum)
0 ~ 500
Cherry, Pimento, Sweet Bell Pepper, 
Sweet Italian (all C. annuum)

The botanical images on this site were produced by The Photon Hunt.

Thank you for visiting!,
Copyright at Common Law by Manuel Flores