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Whether bringing the crunch to a salad or the spice to a chilli, the fruits of Capsicum annuum are as versatile as they are varied.
Bell peppers, chilli peppers, cayenne peppers and jalapeños all come from the same species that has a huge number of varieties, as well as hybrids.
Due to its popularity as a seasoning, there are tens of thousands of varieties of pepper, including ‘Banana’, ‘Fish’ and ‘Medusa’.
Capsicum fruits are named peppers because Christopher Columbus wanted to market them as an alternative to peppercorns in Europe, which were an incredibly lucrative trade in the 15th century.
Pepper grows as an upright shrub, usually less than a metre tall, with small, white, dangling flowers. The fruits, technically berries, can be either elongated, rounded, or lobed, and range in colour, including green, yellow, red and purple fruits.
Food and drink
Bell peppers are used in a vast number of dishes, both raw and cooked, including stuffed peppers and pizzas.
Jalapeños are eaten in a variety of ways, including pickled and sliced on nachos, stuffed with cheese, smoked as chipotles, and as a part of hot sauce.
Chilli peppers, such as cayenne, are added to meals to provide spice, or can be dried to produce chilli powder.
Paprika, a popular flavouring in numerous countries including Spain and Hungary, is made from dried chilli peppers.
Pepper Jack cheese is made of Monterey Jack cheese mixed with chilli peppers, often jalapeños.
Chilli peppers play a role in traditional medicines in some African countries.
Capsaicin, the substance that gives chilli peppers their heat, is used in topical creams as a pain relief medication.
Did you know?
In 2020, the global production of chilli peppers was over 35 million tonnes.
Capsicum annuum is a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which also contains tomatoes, potatoes and aubergines.
Where in the world?
Tropical forests, but now widely cultivated
Find it in our gardens
A botanic garden in southwest London with the world’s most diverse living plant collection.