Chilli



Chilli (Capsicum annuum L. and Capsicum frutescens L.) is a hot-tasting tropical berry belonging to the Solanaceae family.1 It was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in tropical America,2 and its use spread rapidly throughout the world because of its pungent flavour. Variously classified as herb, fruit or vegetable, it is now an inseparable part of Asian cuisine. The name “chilli” is derived from the Mexican word, chili.4

Origins and distribution
Chilli was introduced into Europe in 1493 by Christopher Columbus, who discovered it in tropical America. Believed to be a native of Mexico and Peru, it was widely used by the people of Central and South America prior to Columbus’s discovery. It spread so quickly that by 1542, three types of chilli were already introduced into India. As most European languages referred to chilli as a kind of pepper, attempts were made to differentiate it from pepper by coining new words for chilli. Jacob de Bondt, a Batavian physician, used the term Piper chilensis in 1630. Pepper traders in Java also sought to give it a name distinct from pepper but this did not come to pass. Some varieties of chillies are still known as peppers.5

The numerous races of chillies are broadly divided into the two species: Capsicum annuum L and Capsicum frutescens L. Berries of Capsicum frutescens, also called hot peppers, are more pungent than those of Capsicum annuum, known as sweet peppers.6 Chillies are commercially grown in virtually every tropical region being an easily cultivable crop. In Singapore, the most commonly used chillies are the small and thin chilli padi and the long and thick green chilli.7

Description
Chilli shrubs are perennial and short-lived. They can grow up to 1.5 m in height. Their stems are woody at the base, fleshy and either erect or semi-prostrate. The shrub consists of a main tap root with many lateral roots. The leaves can grow up to 12 cm long and 7.5 cm wide and are unequal in shape with a pointed tip. Chilli flowers occur singly or in small groups of two to three flowers. They are small and bisexual with have five to six petals each. Flowers of Capsicum annuum are white-green, while those of Capsicum frutescens are yellow or white-green.8 The chilli fruit is hollow with many seeds. They are found in different colours like green, orange, white, yellow and red.9 Pungency varies in different varieties. Red chillies get their colour from a colouring compound called capsanthin and have a hot, pungent taste due to a chemical called capsaicin. The numerous small chilli seeds also contain capsaicin.10

Usage and potential
Food: Chillies are used fresh or dried, whole or powdered in cooking to give food its characteristic hot, spicy and pungent taste. Chillies are pickled in salt, eaten raw in salads, made into sauces or stored in brine. A liquid chilli extract is used in colouring food as well as animal feed. Chillies are a good source of Vitamin C. They also contain vitamins B1 and B2, beta carotene, protein, calcium and phosphorous.11

Medicine: A chemical called chilli oleoresin-1, extracted from the dried chillies of Capsicum annuum, is used in pain balms, plasters and prickly heat powders. The Chinese use the leaves of the chilli plant to relieve toothaches.12 Chillies stimulate gastric juices and are therefore used for their carmative and stimulant properties in European medicine to dispel flatulence and increase appetite. Indians believe chillies aid in the circulation of blood. Oil extracted from chillies is used as drying oils. Malays use it to treat vomiting, dyspepsia, diarrhoea and cholera. Javanese use the juice of chilli leaves called daun saberang as a counter irritant on the skin after childbirth. They also use it as a stimulant, and sometimes give it to infants to treat diarrhoea.13

Other uses: Chillies are used by the Indians in exorcism to dispel the “evil eye”.14

Variant names
Common names: chilli or chili.15

Scientific names: Capsicum annum L. or Capsicum frutescens L.16
Malay for Capsicum annum: chabai, cabai, chabai achong, lada merah, lada chanchang, lada, cili hijau, cilimerah (Malaysia), Lombok, Chabe, Chabe sabrang (Indonesia).
Malay for Capsieum frutescens: chabai, cabai, chabai burong, chabai rawit, lada api, lada merah, lada kerawit (Malaysia), lombok belis, lombok jemprit, chabe chengek (Indonesia). Bird chillies are called chili padi.17
Chinese names: lajiao (辣椒; Mandarin), hsiam chiao (Hokkien), la tsiu (Cantonese).18
Other common names: capsicum, red pepper, cayenne pepper, long peppers, sweet peppers, bell peppers, paprika peppers, wrinkled peppers, cherry peppers, tabasco peppers, cluster peppers and bird peppers.19



Author
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja



References
1. Polunin, I. (1987). Plants and flowers of Singapore. Singapore: Times Editions, p. 152. (Call no.: RSING 581.95957 POL)
2. Burkill, I. H. (2002). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture Malaysia, p. 449. (Call no.: RSING 634.9095951 BUR)
3. Hutton, W. (2004). Handy pocket guide to Asian vegetables. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, p. 19 (Call no.: RSING 635.095 HUT)
4. Burkill, I. H. (2002). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture Malaysia, p. 450. (Call no.: RSING 634.9095951 BUR) 
5. Burkill, I. H. (2002). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture Malaysia, p. 450. (Call no.: RSING 634.9095951 BUR) 
6. Hutton, W. (2004). Handy pocket guide to Asian vegetables. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 635.095 HUT)
7. Hutton, W. (2004). Handy pocket guide to Asian vegetables. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 635.095 HUT)
8. Kew Royal Botanic Gardens. (n.d.). Capsicum annuum (chilli pepper). Retrieved 2016, April 1 from Kew Royal Botanic Gardens website: http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/capsicum-annuum-chilli-pepper
9. Tindall, H. D. (1983). Vegetables in the tropics. London: Macmillan Press, p. 349. (Call no.: R 635.0913 TIN)
10. Tindall, H. D. (1983). Vegetables in the tropics. London: Macmillan Press, p. 352. (Call no.: R 635.0913 TIN)
11. Kew Royal Botanic Gardens. (n.d.). Capsicum annuum (chilli pepper). Retrieved 2016, April 1 from Kew Royal Botanic Gardens website: http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/capsicum-annuum-chilli-pepper
12. Polunin, I. (1987). Plants and flowers of Singapore. Singapore: Times editions, p. 152. (Call no.: RSING 581.95957 POL)
13. Burkill, I. H. (2002). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture Malaysia, p. 451. (Call no.: RSING 634.9095951 BUR) 
14. Subramanian, P. (2014, January 2). Recipes for exorcising evil eyes. The New Indian Express. Retrieved 2016, April 1 from The New Indian Express website: http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Recipes-for-Exorcising-Evil-Eyes/2014/01/02/article1977296.ece
15. Wee, Y. C. (1992). A guide to medicinal plants. Singapore: Singapore Science Centre, p. 31. (Call no.: RSING 581.634095957 WEE)
16. Polunin, I. (1987). Plants and flowers of Singapore. Singapore: Times Editions, p. 152. (Call no.: RSING 581.95957 POL)
17. Burkill, I. H. ( 2002). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture Malaysia, p. 451. (Call no.: RSING 634.909595 BUR)
18. Tindall, H. D. (1983). Vegetables in the tropics. London: Macmillan Press, p. 347. (Call no.: R 635.0913 TIN)
19. Kew Royal Botanic Gardens. (n.d.). Capsicum annuum (chilli pepper). Retrieved 2016, April 1 from Kew Royal Botanic Gardens website: http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/capsicum-annuum-chilli-pepper



Further resources
Kremer, W. (2015, October 5). Is the chilli pepper friend or foe? BBC News. Retrieved 2016, April 1 from BBC website: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34411492


Indian chilli displacing jalapenos in global cuisine. (2011, May 8). The Economic Times. Retrieved 2016, April 1 from The Economic Times website: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/et-magazine/indian-chilli-displacing-jalapenos-in-global-cuisine/articleshow/8190311.cms



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.
 

Subject
Plants
Science and technology>>Agriculture>>Fruit crops
Chili con carne
Tabasco pepper
Nature>>Plants