Capsicum chinense [Habanero Group]

Thanks to Claire for writing today’s entry, the last in the food and plant diversity series:

This photograph of Capsicum chinense was provided by Eric Hunt of San Francisco, California (Eric in SF@Flickr) via the BPotD Flickr Pool. His image of habanero peppers was taken at the Alemany Farmer’s Market in San Francisco. Much appreciated Eric!

Capsicum chinense is in the Solanaceae. Other cultivated species with edible tissues in this family include tomato, potato and eggplant. Capsicum chinense is well-known for having a number of cultivated varieties, including the Habanero group of cultivars and ‘Datil’ as well as being a parent of the Naga Jolokia cultivar group (peppers of hybrid origin from Bangladesh and Assam, measured to be the hottest in the world). Nikolaus von Jacquin, who described Capsicum chinense in 1776 from seeds acquired in the Caribbean, incorrectly thought the species came from China (in part the reason for the scientific name Capsicum chinense, “of China”).

Chili peppers (PDF) get their incredible heat from capsaicinoid molecules present in the fruit. The hotness is traditionally measured by the Scoville scale in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). However, the Scoville scale is subjective, so a quantitative measure, high performance liquid chromatography, is now used with subsequent conversion to SHU. Peppers from the Habanero group range from 100,000 to 350,000 SHU while the Naga Jolokia group range from a whopping 855,000 to 1,075,000 SHU! By way of comparison, Jalapeño peppers range from 2500 to 8000 SHU.

Some major producing areas of Capsicum (encompassing many cultivated varieties of edible pepper) are Spain, eastern Europe, north Africa, Mexico, and the southwest United States. Originally from the Americas, Capsicum chinense was likely first cultivated in Peru or Bolivia, but spread throughout the world, first locally in the tropical and subtropical New World and then to distant continents. Spicy chilis are now a major ingredient in numerous dishes from cultures all over the world. It can be dried or eaten fresh, ground up, chopped, put in salsas, sauces and more! Pass that Tabasco please!

Capsicum chinense [Habanero Group]

8 responses to “Capsicum chinense [Habanero Group]”

  1. Island Jim

    What happened to Capsicum annum?

  2. Daniel Mosquin

    Heh, Art K. sent along the following link to a blog on nature.com related to today’s photograph: Molecule of the Month.

  3. Eric in SF

    There has been research on the preservative effects of capsaicin molecules:
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/app.23766/abstract

  4. elizabeth a airhart

    love the chili’s do not forget to put your gloves on when handling

  5. jay bost

    the datil pepper, mentioned above is quite interesting: http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/programs/ark_product_detail/datil_pepper/

  6. Alex Jablanczy

    I was very interested in the molecule of the month and did find the cartoon mildly funny worth half a chuckle in chuckle units being 2.5 in the Risible scale but felt cheated as I had wrongly assumed that I would get a structural formula of perhaps a capsaicin molecule. I couldnt write them as common with 99.99% of all web sites they demand all sorts of incomprehensible nonsense
    like secret codes whatnot which always stop me dead cold.
    This is the last website I ever write to as it doesnt set up absurd irritating incomprehensible and unbreachable obstacles.
    And the other numinous feature is its incomparable link system which sets up a veritable cornucopia of knowledge digression and stimulating detours.
    Much like fortuitous taste combinations of creative cuisine.
    Such as mashed pumpkin being rather bland and tasteless ( I ate for the first time in my life pumpkin pie and mashed pumpkin because of Botanyoftheday took me to websites which insructed me about the well nigh miraculous benefits of the ingredients of this lowly vegetable) combined on my fork with the too tart and sour cranberries both of course without any additives or processing the serendipitous combination of boring pumpkin and too sharp cranberry made a fantastic explosion of novel and thrilling taste bud orgasm. At my age you get it where you can. With my wifes invention of a roulade of also flat and dry turkey enclosing a Hungarian Csabai sausage which would be far too tasty and salty and spicy but in combination was Empyrean symphony of taste. Thirdly there was brown rice with wild rice risotto of course of local farmers market peas and carrots. All these bland dry and tasteless ingredients with
    too spicy salty sour accents well purple prose cant do justice to it. Perhaps red cabbage?
    I love the name Zizania as onomatopoeic as they come.
    Now what is the structural formula for capsaicin?

  7. Eric in SF

    Boing Boing has a great article today about the dangers of cutting Habaneros:
    http://www.boingboing.net/2010/11/11/dilberts-scott-adams.html

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