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Capsicum annuum L. 1753 Bell Pepper group
pronounced: KAP-sih-kum AN-yoo-um Bell Pepper Group
(Solanaceae — the nightshade family)
common names: Green Capsicum, Capsicum, Bell Pepper
Capsicum comes from the Greek καπτω (kapto), to bite, referring to the fiery taste of many members of this genus; annuum is from the Latin annuus, lasting for a year.
Capsicum annuum is a species native to South America, but now cultivated worldwide. Its forms are varied: large to small, very hot to bland, sweet to sour. Despite being a single species, it has many forms, and many names, even within the same language. The plant pictured, and described here as a capsicum (the term used in Australia), is known as a pepper in the UK, as a bell pepper in the USA, India, Malaysia and Canada, as paprika in may counties of Europe, as peperoni in Switzerland, as poivron in France, as piman in Japan. In the Midwest of the USA, especially in Ohio, they are frequently called mangoes, especially when stuffed – which can be very confusing for Australian visitors.
The capsicum (bell pepper) is the only member of the Capsicum family, apart from Capsicum rhomboideum, that does not produce capsaicin, the chemical that produces a strong burning sensation when it comes into contact with the mucous membrane inside the mouth. This is due to the recessive form of a gene that eliminates capsaicin, and consequently removes the “hot taste”.
Members of the Bell Pepper group can be green, red, yellow, orange and, more rarely, white. They come from different cultivars, although some of the green pepper cultivars will ripen into red peppers if left on the vine. The red peppers are the sweetest, yellow or orange slightly less sweet, and green less sweet and slightly bitter.
The plant is a perennial subshrub, with a densely branched stem, reaching to about 150 cm. Single white flowers develop into the fruit, which is green when unripe, whatever the final colour is to be. In temperate climates it is grown as an annual.
What in Australia is known as paprika is a dried powder form of the fruit.
These plants have been cultivated for some 9,000 years, beginning in Central and South America. They are now cultivated practically worldwide, with China being the largest producer, at about 14 million tonnes. Mexico comes next with about 2 million tonnes, and the USA is in third place with 1 million. A fairly useless bit of trivia tells us that the average US adult consumes about 7.25 kg of peppers per year, including almost 4.5 kg of bell peppers.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2012
Page last updated 16th October 2016