Many varieties of the Capsicum species are not hot, or pungent. Most paprikas grown in Europe and bell peppers grown in the US have little or no pungency. These varieties are used fresh, or often used to color other foods.

The wilder varieties, on the other hand, range from mildly to extremely pungent. This is entirely due to the substance capsaicin, or, actually, a group of similar substances called capsaicinoids.

Pure capsaicin, or 8-methyl-n-vanillyl-6-nonenamide, is a whitish powder which is soluble in alcohol but insoluble in cold water, which is why drinking water to help alleviate the burning won't work.

The capsaicinoids are unique compared to other "spicy" substances such as mustard oil (zingerone and allyl isothiocyanate), black pepper (piperine) and ginger (gingerol) in that capsaicin causes a long-lasting selective desensitization to the irritant pain by repeated doses of a low concentration or a single high concentration dose. This is familiar to most 'chile-heads' as an increasing ability to eat hotter chile peppers and foods.

The taxonomic genus containing bell peppers and chile peppers.

Superkingdom Eukaryota
Kingdom Plantae
Division Magnoliophyta (formery Phylum Tracheophyta)
Class Magnoliopsida ( formerly Class Angiospermae)
Subclass Asteridae ( formerly Subclass Dicotyledonae)
Order Solanales
Family Solanaceae
Subfamily Solanoideae
Tribe Solanea
Genus Capsicum

(Black pepper, Piper nigrum, is in its own family, piperaceae).

Sources appear at the end of the Solanaceae writeup.

Capsicum - Capsicum frutescens

(africa pepper, american pepper, bird pepper, cayenne, chilli pepper, cockspur pepper, goat's pepper, pod pepper, red pepper, spanish pepper, zanzibar pepper)

Cayenne is a naturally perennial plant but can also appear as an annual. It can grow to a height of 3 feet or more, and it's stem is woody towards the base and branched near the top. The white to yellow flowers are drooped and grow alone, in pairs, or in threes between April and September. The fruit is a many-seeded pod and is yellow to red when ripe.

Capsicum is an appetizer, digestive, irritant, sialagogue, stimulant and tonic. As an infusion, it is taken for stomach and bowel pains and cramps. Small quantites of the fresh fruit will stimulate the appetite, and it can also be used externally as a tincture to increase blood flow to areas afflicted with rheumatism, athritis, pleuritis or pericarditis.

Prolonged use externally may cause dermatitis and raise blisters. Excessive consumption can cause gastroenteritis and kidney damage.

Cap"si*cum (?), n. [NL., fr. L. capsa box, chest.] Bot.

A genus of plants of many species, producing capsules or dry berries of various forms, which have an exceedingly pungent, biting taste, and when ground form the red of Cayenne pepper of commerce.

The most important species are Capsicum baccatum or birs pepper. C, annuum or chili pepper, C. frutesens or spur pepper, and C. annuum or Guinea pepeer, which includes the bell pepper and other common garden varieties. The fruit is much used, both in its green and ripe state, in pickles and in cookery. See Cayenne pepper.


© Webster 1913.

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