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Pepper Varieties & Species

Pepper Varieties & Species - the many different types / kinds of hot peppers!
There are thousands of varieties of peppers worldwide! They come in a wide range of colors, flavors, shapes, heat levels and sizes. From small compact plants, to giant monsters that can get over 9 feet tall, with peppers ranging in size from a tiny fraction of an inch to over a foot long, and coming in nearly every color of the rainbow!

All chile peppers are various species of the genus Capsicum of the plant family Solanaceae, and are thus related to eggplants and tomatoes (They are not related to black pepper, which comes from the family Piperaceae.)

There are currently over thirty different known species of chile pepper. The majority of these are actually "wild" pepper species (found growing primarily in South America), including the C. cardenasii, C. eximium and C. chacoense.

Only five of the pepper species are widely domesticated. They are -

Pepper Species - Capsicum Annuum Pepper
C. annuum (meaning "annual", a misnomer, as peppers are actually perennials)
This is by far the largest domesticated species, both in the number of different varieties, as well as the most widely cultivated worldwide. This species includes a wide range of pepper shapes, sizes and characteristics. Flowers are typically white but some varieties are purple, peppers most often ripen green to red, but come in a variety of other colors as well. Most of the peppers grow in the US and Mexico are of this species. They include many of the most common and best-known pepper varieties, such as Jalapeno, Poblano/Ancho, Serrano, Cayenne, Bell Pepper, Peperoncini and Anaheim/NuMex Peppers. This species also includes some of the more unique pepper varieties, such as the unusual Peter Pepper, as well as the magnificent Bolivian Rainbow.

Pepper Species - Capsicum Baccatum Pepper Flower
C. baccatum (meaning "berry-like")
This unusual species is grown primarily in South America, where it is referred to locally as "Aji". Characterized by diffuse yellow or green spots on the base of the corolla lobes (flower petals). Plants are fairly tall for peppers, up to about 5 feet. The peppers can range in size from small berries for some wild varieties, to over a foot in length, are often brightly colored and quite flavorful. This species includes such peppers as the Aji Amarillo, Aji Colorado, Aji Andean and Lemon Drop.

Pepper Species - Capsicum Chinense Hot Pepper
C. chinense (meaning "from China", a misnomer, as they originated in the Amazon)
This species includes some of the world's hottest peppers. Peppers in this species come in a wide variety of colors, and often have distinctive tropical flavors. They are characterized by multiple flowers per node, typically have an annular constriction where the pedicel meets the fruit, and crinkled leaves. Most peppers in this species are extremely hot (one notable exception to this rule is Aji Dulce, which has the habanero flavor but with little or no heat!) The flowers are typically small and white, with a fruity scent. While quite hot, these peppers can also show some of the greatest variance in heat levels based on environmental growing conditions and other factors (sometimes even between different peppers of the same plant!) This species includes the Habanero, Scotch Bonnet, Datil, Fatalii, and Billy Goat.

Pepper Species - Capsicum Frutescens Pepper Plant
C. frutescens (meaning "bushy")
Not as many varieties of this exists or are domestically grown as some of the other pepper species. They are characterized by compact growth, and can make good container plants. The peppers tend to grow upright rather than pendant and are usually red, orange or yellow. This species includes the world-famous Tabasco Pepper, as well as the Zimbabwe Bird Pepper, the Cambodian Angkor Sunrise and the Brazilian Malagueta.

Pepper Species - Capsicum Pubescens Pepper Hairy Leaf
C. pubescens (meaning "hairy")
These rare peppers are characterized by "furry" leaves, as well as unusually-shaped black or dark brown seeds which are unique to this particular species. They grow primarily in the mountainous regions of Central and South America. They are used to temperate climates, and can be more cold-tolerant than some peppers, although some varieties off this species may not do well in high temperatures. The peppers are also unusual, thick-walled and often shaped like small apples or ovals, and come in red, yellow and orange colors, with flowers that are typically purple. With proper growing conditions, they can get quite tall, up to 9' or more! They also have a unique capsaicinoid content which gives them a different flavor and "heat" than other peppers, some varieties can seem to taste even hotter than a habanero! This species includes Peruvian Rocotos, Bolivian Locotos and Mexican Manzanos.

Pepper Variety Names

Pepper variety names are not all standardized and can sometimes seem a bit perplexing. Sometimes the same pepper may be called by different names, depending on where it is grown, it's condition, and how it is prepared (this is particularly true for Mexican varieties). For example, the exact same pepper is called a Poblano when used fresh, and Ancho when dried. Or a Jalapeno Pepper, when smoked, is called a Chipotle Pepper.

In addition to species and variety names, peppers are also broadly categorized as either sweet peppers or hot peppers. Sweet peppers (a misnomer, not all are sweet) refers to those without any heat, typically used for flavoring, cooking or stuffing. Examples include Bell Pepper, Apple Pepper and Lipstick Pepper. Hot peppers refer to those that taste hot, and can range from the relatively mild Anaheim to the blazingly hot Habanero.

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