Capsicum

The genus Capsicum is part of the large Solanaceae family, which, among the more than 90
genera and 2500 species of flowering plants,
includes commercially important vegetables such
as tomato, potato, and eggplant. This genus is
native to tropical and subtropical America
(Hunziker 2001) in a wide region comprising
Mexico and northern Central America, the Caribbean, the lowland Bolivia, the northern lowland Amazonia, and the mid-elevation southern
Andes, where archaeological evidence suggests
use of this spice crop since 6000 BC (Davenport
1970; Basu and De 2003; Perry et al. 2007). At
the beginning, fruits were exchanged for black
pepper (Piper nigrum), a species similar in taste
(though not in appearance) although not phylogenetically related to Capsicum (Gordo et al.
2012). For this reason, it was incorrectly named
“pepper” (Walsh and Hoot 2001).
It was Fuchs, who proposed for the first time
in 1543, the botanical term Capsicum, which was
adopted later in 1753 by Linneo. The name
would be the Neolithic derivation of Greek
“Capsa,” which refers to the peculiar shape of the

fruit. The crop was firstly introduced in Europe
by Christopher Columbus during his travels after
the discovery of America in the fifteenth century
and later spread to Africa and Asia. Early
imported varieties belong to C. chinense (Scotch
Bonnet or Habanero) which most probably were
the most consumed during that time (Walsh and
Hoot 2001). The flourishing commercial
exchanges of Spanish and Portuguese facilitated
the spread of pepper around the globe, with an
immediate success due to a well acclimatization
in the regions, where they were used as a spice
from that part of the population who could not
afford to purchase cinnamon, nutmeg, and other
spices that are widely used for seasoning and
preserving food. To date, the existence of 35
Capsicum species is reported (Carrizo García
et al. 2016), five of which, namely, C. annuum,
C. baccatum, C. chinense, C. frutescens, and
C. pubescens have been domesticated and
widespread with different terms depending on the
region of cultivation. In Mexico and Central
America, the crop is called “chile” which was the
ancient name given by local populations of the
new world, in American English it becomes
“chilli,” in Caribbean and countries Latin
American countries it is commonly referred to as
“ají” and “rocoto,” from which derived names of
many cultivars of different species today present
on the market (i.e., aji Amarillo, aji limon, aji
panca, rocoto manzano, rocoto brown, and
rocoto de seda). It is also known as pimiento
(Spanish), red pepper and pepper (English),
pepper (Italian), piment (French), paprika (German and other northern European languages).
Overall, the present term “chili pepper” refers to
varieties with small and spicy fruits, on the
contrary, the term “sweet pepper” refers to varieties with larger fruits and little or no spicy.

Economic and Culinary
Importance
World pepper production has grown considerably over 20 years (1997–2017, www.fao.org/
faostat), from 2 to about 4.5 million tons of dry

types and from over 17 to 36 million tons as
fresh. The area harvested followed a similar
trend, with an increase of the surface cultivated
area of about 35% in the last 20 years, being
today about 3.8 millions of hectares. Fresh pepper is cultivated in 126 countries of the world in
all the continents. The world’s largest producer is
China with over 18 million tons annually, followed by the Mexico with about 3.5 million tons
(FAOSTAT 2017). Dry pepper is cultivated in 70
countries and no relevant production is reported
in Oceania. India is the largest producer with
about 2.0 million tons, followed by Thailand
(349.615 tons). Peppers are grown almost all
over the world and are fairly easy to cultivate
both in the field and in the greenhouse in a wide
range of climatic and environmental conditions.
Africa, Europe, and America contribute in the
same proportion to the total world production
(about 10–12% each) for fresh pepper; while for
dry pepper, Asia and Africa are the main producers contributing to the 70.3 and 21.2%,
respectively (Fig. 1.1). The economic value of
pepper production has increased since 1991
becoming a good source of income for producers
in many countries and giving an important role in
international trading. The present worth of dry
pepper is 3.8 billion dollars, while fresh pepper
contributes with 30,208 billion dollars. For both,
the increase observed over the past 25 years is
four times higher in dry pepper and six times
higher in fresh pepper.
Around the genus Capsicum, there is an
increasing interest and fascination due to the
amazing diversity in many characteristics, such as
plant architecture, flower morphology, fruit
typology, colors, pungency, and qualitative traits
which make this crop extremely versatile and
suitable for innumerable uses. As food, a variety of
recipes are ensured thanks to the presence of sweet
and hot types. The former are mainly widespread
in temperate regions of Europe and North America
where they are used freshly or cooked as vegetables. The latter are instead mainly spread in the
tropical regions of America, Africa, and Asia,
where they are mostly consumed fresh or dried as
condiment as spice in powder or salsa in many

dishes. Food uses of peppers could then be summarized in the following classes: (a) fresh use, of
immature green fruits, mature red fruits, and
leaves; (b) fresh processing, for sauces, pastes,
pickles, beer etc.; (c) dried spices, from mature

whole fruits and powder (Poulos 1994). Based on
pod shape and size, more than 20 market types
(e.g. bell, cayenne, ancho, jalapeño, pasilla, Hungarian wax, jwala, and Thai) are commercially
cultivated (Fig. 1.2). Furthermore, within each of

these market types, there may be several variants;
for instance, bell may have blocky, conical, or mini
pods and cherry bell may have small or big pods
(Fig. 1.2).

The Properties of Pepper
The uniqueness of pepper is the typical pungency
due to the presence of capsaicinoids. Capsaicinoids are secondary metabolites and derivatives of
phenylpropanoids produced in placental epidermis cells and accumulated in structures (blisters)
located on the placenta surface (Stewart et al.
2007). The hotness sensation when consumed is
given by the interaction with vanilloid receptors,
supposed to be a mechanism of defense against
mammalian herbivory. Capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin are the two predominant compounds,
accounting for almost 90% of total capsaicinoids.
Anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and anti-obesity
activities have been recognized within capsaicinoids (Luo et al. 2010). These properties are
exerted by the release of substance P, a neurotransmitter involved in pain transmission by nerve
(Gamse et al. 1981). Peppers are also an extremely
good source of compounds exerting antioxidant
properties and responsible for fruit pigmentation.
Different colors are encountered in mature fruits as
a result of accumulation of carotenoids in chromoplasts during ripening such as capsanthin and
capsorubin (mainly in red fruits), violaxanthin and
neoxanthin (mainly in yellow fruit), and lutein and
b-carotene (mainly in orange fruit) (Gómez-García and Ochoa-Alejo 2013). Fruits are further
well-known to have played a leading role in the
discovery of vitamin C by Albert Szent-Györgyj,
who extracted the first pure chemical compound
from Hungarian paprika and was awarded Nobel
Prize for Medicine and Physiology in 1937 (http://
www.nobelprize.org). Indeed, within Capsicum
species, a high level of ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
able to satisfy the recommended daily intake (FDA
2018, attested to 60 mg for 100 g of raw pepper) is
commonly found in both sweet and hot types and
widely documented in the literature. High contents
of other essential vitamins such vitamin A in the
form of b-carotene and vitamins of group B

(thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin) are recognized.
All these compounds, of which content is determined by species, cultivar, environmental conditions, and maturation stage, exert their biological
effects protecting cells against oxidative damage
through the interaction with oxygen molecules and
scavenging peroxyl radicals (Padayatty et al.
2003; Howard and Wildman 2007). Finally,
antimicrobial and antivirulence properties, against
Streptococcus pyogenes, a major human pathogen
(Marini et al. 2015) and Fusarium infection
(Tewksbury et al. 2008) a polyphagous fungus
affecting many vegetables, are reported. All these
properties make pepper a good candidate against
diseases.
Other than food uses are recognized as active
ingredient in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and
pest management (Bosland and Votava 1999).
The extractable colors from fruits due to the
presence of compounds unique in pepper such as
capsanthin, capsorubin, and cryptocapsin are
extensively used in the food processing industry
as natural colorant for a wide range of products
such meats, cheeses, and other foods. Non-food
uses include (a) coloring and flavoring agents,
from oleoresins (carotenoids) extracts or powder,
as example, paprika powder can be used to
inhibit lipid oxidation of pork meat while oleoresin is used to enhance physical and sensory
properties of food products (Baenas et al. 2019);
(b) ethno-botanical/traditional medicine, from
fruit extracts and powders (pungent fruits);
(c) modern medicine/pharmaceuticals, from
extracts of capsaicinoids and carotenoids which
can exert analgesic, antimicrobial, antioxidant,
and anti-inflammatory effects; (d) insecticides/repellents and antibacterial effect from capsaicinoids extracts and organic acids (i.e., cinnamic,
coumaric, ferulic, and caffeic); (e) spiritual, using
whole fruits, e.g., “ristras”; (f) ornamental, using
whole plants or fruits; (g) defense/punishment,
using capsaicin extracts/or powder (Kumar et al.
2006). The use in cosmesis is favored by the
presence of natural compounds which allow to
avoid allergies and other side effects and are
addressed to protect skin oxidative and
UVA-mediated damage having thanks to the
anti-wrinkle action and fighting against free

radicals (Baenas et al. 2019). The industrial
preparations are based on oleoresins rich of the
above-mentioned bioactive compounds. Finally,
among the most curious aspects of the Capsicum
genus, there is certainly the rampant interest of
many, searching and collecting, even in urban
contexts, different species, characterized by a
wide variety traits, as well as ornamental, aesthetically appreciated or rare varieties. This is
evident in the rise of associations and websites
dedicated to the subject.