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The multiple uses of Chilli Pepper

Updated: Apr 18, 2022

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Capsicum frutescens

Piri-piri pepper brings memories from my childhood. This chilli was the most popular in Madeira in older times; besides being a favourite seasoning for roasted chicken, chillies had another use: parents rubbed it on the fingernails of their children to dissuade them from biting their nails. Today a special varnish with a bitter taste is used instead.

Thank God I escaped this punishment. I never had that compulsion!

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Bishop’s crown

There are five domesticated chilli species, which gave origin to the many varieties and cultivars we find today in the market.

Capsicum frutescens – Includes Malagueta, Tabasco and Piri-piri.

Capsicum baccatum – Includes Bishop’s crown, Aji amarillo (Lemon drop)

Capsicum pubescens – Includes my favourite chilli, Rocoto.

Capsicum annuum – Includes the mildest and most moderated of all chillies such as bell pepper, jalapeno and cayenne.

Capsicum chinense – Is the species with the hottest peppers – Habanero, Scotch bonnet and Naga

capsicum annuum bolivian rainbow 6

Chinese five colours

It is mostly their diversity in colours, shapes and heat intensity that seduces me.

What use is a herb garden without these magnific plants? Their flashy, red, yellow, brown, purple or orange colours, threaten anyone who dares to take a bite of their ‘flesh’.

Depending on the species, the heat intensity varies, from sweet to mild, to intensively hot. Bishop’s crown is the mildest of all, here the heat intensity is not the main goal, instead its fleshy succulent pulp is full of flavour and is a good choice for beginners who want to start exploring the world of spicy food.

Chillies produce capsaicin, the chemical that makes them hot. This compound protects plants from their enemies, namely herbivorous animals. Capsaicin causes a sensation that imitates pain from burning, as a protection. Any herbivorous will avoid repeating such an experience. Birds, however, don’t feel the heat from chillies and these fruits are even one of their preferred foods. Although it looks like a failure, this is actually very clever. Birds are the ones that spread chilli seeds to far away places. This strategy allows chillies to colonize new places in the world.

As a gardener it’s not uncommon to get bitten by insects. The very first thing I do when that happens is to pick up a chilli pepper and rub its inside on the bite. It is a fact that we can’t feel itching and pain at the same time: we either feel one or the other. Capsaicin in chillies is a first aid remedy to treat the infection. It reduces the swelling and stops the itching, thus  the  annoying and continuous scratching of the skin is prevented.

Eating chillies can become addictive and some people are always searching for the hottest chilli that would ‘blow their heads off’. The hotter the better!  There are chilli-eating contests with the sole goal of  finding who can endure the hottest pepper. The reason why these people enjoy eating chillies so much is because capsaicin, in chillies, triggers the release of the pain killer endorphins from the brain, giving a sensation of satisfaction, excitement, happiness and euphoria.


Stuffed Rocoto chilli