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Chilli peppers
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Subclass: Asteridae
Order: Solanales
Family: Solanaceae
Genus: Capsicum
C. annuum (Bell pepper, paprika, pimento)
C. frutescens (chilli pepper, cayenne pepper)
C. chinense (habanero)
C. pendulum
C. pubescens
C. minimum
C. baccatum
C. abbreviatum
C. anomalum = Turbocapsicum anomalum
C. breviflorum
C. buforum
C. brasilianum
C. campylopodium
C. cardenasii
C. chacoense
C. ciliatum
C. chlorocladium
C. coccineum
C. cordiforme = C. annuum
C. cornutum
C. dimorphum
C. dusenii
C. exile
C. eximium
C. fasciculatum
C. fastigiatum = C. frutescens
C. flexuosum
C. galapagoensis
C. geminifolum
C. hookerianum
C. lanceolatum
C. leptopodum
C. luteum
C. microcarpum
C. minutiflorum
C. mirabile
C. parvifolium
C. praetermissum
C. schottianum
C. scolnikianum
C. stramonifolium = Witheringia stramonifolia
C. tetragonum
C. tovarii
C. villosum
C. violaceum
Capsicum is a genus of plants used as a spice, a vegetable, and a medicine. They originated in Central and South America, but are now grown throughout the world. Most varieties contain capsaicin (methyl vanillyl nonenamide), a lipophile chemical that can produce a strong burning sensation in the mouth (and, several hours later, anus) of the unaccustomed eater. Most mammals find this unpleasant; however birds are unaffected, and it might appear that the fruit is "designed" for birds to spread the seeds. Chilli peppers are of great importance in Native American medicine, and capsaicin is used in modern Western medicine—mainly in topical preparations—as a circulatory stimulant and pain reliever.

The fruit is boxlike, conical, or spherical and filled with air. It has 2 to 4 vertical ribs on the inside, which may carry seeds; but the bulk of the seeds are on a dome at the stem end. Capsicums vary in horticulturally ripe colour and may be green, yellow, orange, bright red, lavender, brownish purple, or other colors depending on variety and on what stage of botanical ripeness is considered best for use.

Capsicums and peppers are edible in a raw form although the hotter varieties are generally cooked to remove some of the capsaicin and tone down their heat. Those used in cooking are generally varieties of the C. annuum and C. frutescens species, though a few others are used as well. They are suitable for stuffing with either a raw filling (such as cheese) or one that requires cooking (such as meat and rice). They are also used chopped and raw in salads or cooked in stir-fries or other mixed dishes, sliced vertically and fried, chopped and incorporated into salsas or other sauces, and for many others uses. They can be preserved by drying and either used whole as a flavoring or processed into flakes or powders. They can be pickled and added to sandwiches or salads. Extracts can be incorporated into hot sauces.

Many varieties of the same species can be used in many different ways; for example, C. annuum includes the "bell pepper" variety, which is sold in both its immature green state and its ripe red state, where it is called "pimento". This same species has other varieties as well, such as the Anaheim chiles often used for stuffing, the dried Ancho chile used to make chilli powder, the mild-to-hot Jalapeño, and the smoked Jalapeño, known as a Chipotle.

Most of the capsaicin in a pepper is found in the interior ribs that divide the chambers of the fruit, and to which the seeds are attached. The amount varies wildly with variety, and is measured in Scoville unitss, ranging from the mild bell pepper to the scorching Habanero.

Synonyms and common names

In most English-speaking countries, such as Australia, these plants are known as either "capsicums" (for heatless versions) or "chilli/chillies" (hot version). In America they are referred to as bell peppers, hot peppers, chilli peppers, or red peppers. It should be noted that the term 'pepper' is botanically incorrect, and can lead to confusion with Piper nigrum, otherwise known as black pepper. However, the term is widely used in North America. In Spanish-speaking countries there are many different names for each variety and preparation. In South America, they are collectively referred to as "Aji".