Jean Andrews. Cambridge World History of Food. Editor: Kenneth F Kiple & Kriemhild Conee Ornelas. Volume 1. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Chilli peppers are eaten as a spice and as a condiment by more than one-quarter of the earth’s inhabitants each day. Many more eat them with varying regularity—and the rate of consumption is growing. Although the chilli pepper is the most used spice and condiment in the world, its monetary value in the spice trade is not indicative of this importance because it is readily cultivated by many of its consumers.
Peppers are the fruit of perennial shrubs belonging to the genus Capsicum and were unknown outside the tropical and subtropical regions of the Western Hemisphere before 1492, when Christopher Columbus made his epic voyage in search of a short route to the East Indies. Although he did not reach Asia and its spices, he did return to Spain with examples of a new, pungent spice found during his first visit to the eastern coast of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic and Republic of Haiti). Today capsicums are not only consumed as a spice, condiment, and vegetable, but are also used in medicines, as coloring agents, for landscape and decorative design, and as ornamental objects.
For the peoples of the Old World, the history of capsicums began at the end of the fifteenth century, when Columbus brought some specimens of a redfruited plant from the New World back to his sovereigns (Morison 1963: 216; Anghiera 1964: 225). However, the fruits were not new to humankind. When nonagricultural Mongoloid peoples, who had begun migrating across the Bering Strait during the last Ice Age, reached the subtropical and tropical zones of their new world, they found capsicums that had already become rather widespread. They had been carried to other regions by natural dispersal agents—principally birds—from their nuclear area south of both the wet forests of Amazonia and the semiarid cerado of central Brazil (Pickersgill 1984: 110). Plant remains and depictions of chillies on artifacts provide archaeological evidence of the use and probable cultivation of these wild capsicums by humans as early as 5000 B.C. By 1492, Native Americans had domesticated (genetically altered) at least four species (MacNeish 1967; Heiser 1976: 266; Pickersgill 1984: 113). No others have subsequently been domesticated.
In the West Indies, Columbus found several different capsicums being cultivated by the Arawak Indians, who had migrated from northeastern South America to the Caribbean Islands during a 1,200 year period beginning about 1000 B.C. (Means 1935; Anghiera 1964; Watts 1987). These migrants traveled by way of Trinidad and the Lesser Antilles, bringing with them a tropical capsicum that had been domesticated in their homeland. They also brought a word similar to ají by which the plant was, and still is, known in the West Indies and throughout its native South American habitat (Heiser 1969). Later, a second species reached the West Indies from Mesoamerica along with other food plants, such as maize (corn), beans, and squash (Sauer 1966: 54). It was this, more climatically adaptable pepper species that went forth, bearing the native Nahuatl name chilli, to set the cuisines of the Old World tropics afire (Andrews 1993a, 1993b).
The conquest of Mexico and, later, the mastery of Peru also revealed pepper varieties more suited climatically to cultivation in the temperate areas of Europe and the Middle East. And within 50 years after the first capsicum peppers reached the Iberian Peninsula from the West Indies, American chilli peppers were being grown on all coasts of Africa and in India, monsoon Asia, southwestern China, the Middle East, the Balkans, central Europe, and Italy (Andrews 1993a).
The first European depictions of peppers date from 1542, when a German herbal by Leonhart Fuchs described and illustrated several types of pepper plants considered at that time to be native to India. Interestingly, however, it was not the Spanish who were responsible for the early diffusion of New World food plants. Rather, it was the Portuguese, aided by local traders following long-used trade routes, who spread American plants throughout the Old World with almost unbelievable rapidity (Boxer 1969a).
Unfortunately, documentation for the routes that chilli peppers followed from the Americas is not as plentiful as that for other New World economic plants such as maize, tobacco, sweet potatoes, manioc (cassava), beans, and tomatoes. However, it is highly probable that capsicums accompanied the better-documented Mesoamerican food complex of corn, beans, and squash, as peppers have been closely associated with these plants throughout history. The Portuguese, for example, acquired corn at the beginning of the sixteenth century and encouraged its cultivation on the west coast of Africa (Jeffreys 1975: 35). From West Africa the American foods, including capsicums, went to the east coast of Africa and then to India on trading ships traveling between Lisbon and Goa on the Malabar Coast of western India (Boxer 1984).
The fiery new spice was readily accepted by the natives of Africa and India, who were long-accustomed to food highly seasoned with spices, such as the African melegueta pepper (Aframomum melegueta, also known as “grains of paradise”), the Indian black pepper (Piper nigrum), and ginger (Zingiber officinale). In fact, because the plants produced by the abundant, easily stored seeds were much easier to cultivate than the native spices, Capsicum became a less expensive addition to the daily diet and was soon widely available to all—rich and poor alike. Thus, within a scant 50 years after 1492, three varieties of capsicums were being grown and exported along the Malabar Coast of India (Purseglove 1968; Watt 1972).
From India, chilli peppers traveled (along with the other spices that were disseminated) not only along the Portuguese route back around Africa to Europe but also over ancient trade routes that led either to Europe via the Middle East or to monsoon Asia (L’obel 1576). In the latter case, if the Portuguese had not carried chilli peppers to Southeast Asia and Japan, the new spice would have been spread by Arabic, Gujurati, Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Javanese traders as they traded traditional wares throughout their worlds. And, after Portuguese introduction, both birds and humans carried the peppers inland. Certainly, birds are most adept at carrying pepper seeds from island to island and to inaccessible inland areas (Ridley 1930; Procter 1968).
In the Szechuan and Hunan provinces in China, where many New World foods were established within the lifetime of the Spanish conquistadors, there were no roads leading from the coast. Nonetheless, American foods were known there by the middle of the sixteenth century, having reached these regions via caravan routes from the Ganges River through Burma and across western China (Ho 1955). The cuisines of southwestern Szechuan and Hunan still employ more chilli peppers than any other area in China.
Despite a European “discovery” of the Americas, chilli peppers diffused throughout Europe in circuitous fashion. Following the fall of Granada in 1492, the Spaniards established dominance over the western Mediterranean while the Ottoman Turks succeeded in installing themselves as the controlling power in northern Africa, Egypt, Arabia, the Balkans, the Middle East, and the eastern Mediterranean. The result was that the Mediterranean became, in reality, two separate seas divided by Italy, Malta, and Sicily, with little or no trade or contact between the eastern and western sections (Braudel 1976).
Venice was the center of the spice and Oriental trade of central Europe, and Venice depended on the Ottoman Turks for goods from the fabled Orient. From central Europe the trade went to Antwerp and the rest of Europe, although Antwerp also received Far Eastern goods from the Portuguese via India, Africa, and Lisbon. It was along these avenues that chilli peppers traveled into much of Europe. They were in Italy by 1535 (Oviedo 1950), Germany by 1542 (Fuchs 1543), England before 1538 (Turner 1965), the Balkans before 1569 (Halasz 1963), and Moravia by 1585 (L’Escluse 1611). But except in the Balkans and Turkey, Europeans did not make much use of chilli peppers until the Napoleonic blockade cut off their supply of spices and they turned to Balkan paprika as a substitute. Prior to that, Europeans had mainly grown capsicums in containers as ornamentals.
Well into the nineteenth century, most Europeans continued to believe that peppers were native to India and the Orient until botanist Alphonse de Candolle produced convincing linguistic evidence for the American origin of the genus Capsicum (Candolle 1852). In addition, during the 500 years since their discovery, chillies have become an established crop in the Old World tropics and are such a vital part of the cuisines that many in these regions are only now beginning to accept an American origin of the spice that is such an integral part of their daily lives.
It was only after the Portuguese had carried capsicums and other American plants to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe that the Spaniards played a significant role in the movement of New World crops to places other than Spain, Italy, and, perhaps, Western Europe. This began toward the end of the sixteenth century with the Manila-Acapulco galleon traffic which effected the transfer of numerous plants, as well as goods, between Mexico and the Orient (Schurz 1939).
Moreover, in North America, at approximately the same time that the Manila galleon trade was launched, the Spaniards founded the presidios of Saint Augustine, Florida (1565), and Santa Fe, New Mexico (1598). These settlements initiated Caribbean-Florida and Mexico-American Southwest exchanges of plants long before other Europeans began colonizing the east coast of North America. Interestingly, however, seventeenth-century English colonists introduced peppers from England via Bermuda to their eastern North American possessions (Laufer 1929: 242).
The Names of Chilli Peppers
That Columbus had not reached the Orient did not discourage him from calling the Caribbean Islands the “Indies,” the natives “Indians,” and the chilli pepper pimiento after the completely unrelated black pepper—pimienta—that he sought in the East.
The indigenous Arawaks called the fruit axí, which was the South American name they brought with them when they migrated north to the Antilles. Although the Spaniards transliterated this to ají (ajé, agí), they never adopted the Arawak word, either in the West Indies or in North America.
Nonetheless, in the Dominican Republic and a few other places in the Caribbean, and in much of South America, the pungent varieties are still called ají. Uchu and huayca are other ancient words used for capsicums by some Amerindian groups in the Andean area. In Spain, American peppers are called pimiento or pimientón (depending on the size) after pimienta (black pepper from India). In Italy, they are called peperone, in France, piment, and in the Balkans, paprika.
In Mexico, however, the Nahuatl-speaking natives called their fiery fruit chilli. The Nahuatl stem chil refers to the chilli plant. It also means “red.” The original Spanish spelling was chilli, first used in print by Francisco Hernández (1514-78), the earliest European to collect plants systematically in the New World. But although in his writings (published in 1615) he interpreted the Nahuatl name for capsicums as chilli, that Spanish spelling was later changed to chile by Spanish-speaking people in Mexico. To the generic word “chilli” were added the terms that described particular chilli cultivars (two examples are Tonalchilli, “chilli of the sun or summer,” and Chiltecpin, “flea chilli”). In Mexico today, the word chile refers to both pungent and sweet types and is used, in the Nahuatl style, combined with a descriptive adjective, such a schile colorado (“red chilli”), or with a word that indicates the place of origin, such as chile poblano (“chilli from Puebla”). The same Mexican variety can have different names in different geographic regions, in various stages of maturity, and in the dried state.
The Portuguese language uses pimenta for capsicums and qualifies the various types—pimenta-dacaiena (cayenne pepper), pimenta-da-malagueta (red pepper), pimenta-do-reino (black pepper), and pimenta-da-jamaica (allspice). Pimentão can mean pimento, red pepper, or just pepper. Ají and chile are not found in Portuguese dictionaries, and apparently the Portuguese did not carry those words with them in their travels.
The Dutch and the English were probably responsible for introducing the current capsicum names to the eastern part of the Old World. In Australia, India, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia in general, the term “chilli” (“chillies”) or, sometimes, “chilly,” is used by English speakers for the pungent types, whereas the mild ones are called capsicums. Each Far Eastern language has its own word for chillies—prik in Thai and mirch in Hindi, to name but two.
It is in the United States that the greatest confusion exists. Both the Anglicized spelling, “chili” (chilies), and the Spanish chile (chiles) are used by some for the fruits of the Capsicum plant, but chili is also used as a short form of chili con carne, a variously concocted mixture of meat and chillies. The Oxford English Dictionary designates “chilli” (after the Nahuatl) as the primary usage, calling the Spanish chile and the English chili both variants. Webster’s New International Dictionary, however, prefers “chili” followed by the Spanish chile and the Nahuatl chilli. But “chilli” is the term most often used by English-speaking people outside the United States, and it is the spelling preferred by the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
It is difficult to determine exactly where the genus Capsicum originated because the nature of that genus is still not fully understood (Eshbaugh 1980). If the genus remains limited to taxa producing the pungent capsaicin, then the center of diversity occurs in an area from Bolivia to southwestern Brazil. But if the genus includes nonpungent taxa, a second center of diversity would center in Mesoamerica. Nonetheless, it is certain that the ancestor of all of the domesticates originated in tropical South America.
There are definite indications that Capsicum annuum originally was domesticated in Mesoamerica and Capsicum chinense in tropical northern Amazonia. Capsicum pubescens and C. baccatum seem to be more commonplace in the Andean and central regions of South America. Thus, the first two species were those encountered by the first Europeans, whereas the other two species were not found until later and are just now becoming known outside their South American home.
The genus Capsicum is of the family Solanaceae, which includes such plants as the potato, tomato, eggplant, petunia, and tobacco. The genus was first described in 1700, but that description has become so outdated as to be worthless.The taxonomy of the genus Capsicum is in a state of transition, and the taxa finally included may change if the description is expanded to encompass taxa with common traits but nonpungent fruits (Eshbaugh, personal communication).
Currently, the genus consists of at least 20 species, many of which are consumed by humans. Four of the species have been domesticated and two others are extensively cultivated. It is those six species, belonging to three separate genetic lineages, that are of concern to human nutrition.
Capsicum pubescens Ruiz and Pavón
The domesticated C. pubescens is the most distinctive species in the genus. The flowers have comparatively large purple or white (infused with purple) corollas that are solitary and erect at each node. Those blossoms, along with the wavy, dark brownish black seeds, are unique among the capsicums. This extremely pungent chilli was domesticated in the Andean region of South America, where it is commonly called rocoto, and it is still practically unknown in other parts of the world because it requires cool but frost-free growing conditions and a long growing season at relatively high elevations. Its many varieties include none that are sweet. The fleshy nature of the fruit causes rapid deterioration when mature, and, consequently, it neither travels nor stores well.
Capsicum baccatum var. pendulum (Willdenow) Eshbaugh
Capsicum baccatum var. pendulum is recognized by a flower with a cream-colored corolla marked with greenish-gold blotches near the base of each petal and anthers that are whitish-yellow to brown. It is solitary at each node.Although it is quite variable, the typical fruit is elongate with cream-colored seeds. It is indigenous to the lowlands and mid-elevations of Bolivia and neighboring areas. In much of South America, where all pungent peppers are called ají, C. baccatum is the “Andean ají ” (Ruskin 1990: 197). Until recently, it has been little known outside South America. It is only in this species and the common annual pepper that nonpungent cultivars are known (Ruskin 1990: 198).
Capsicum annuum var. annuum Linné
The flowers of C. var. annuum are solitary at each node (occasionally two or more).The corolla is milky white and the anthers are purple. The variform fruit usually has firm flesh and straw-colored seeds. The pungent and nonpungent cultivars of this Mesoamerican domesticate now dominate the commercial pepper market throughout the world. A relationship between C. annuum, C. chinense, and Capsicum frutescens has caused the three to be known as the ” C. annuum complex.” This relationship, however, creates a taxonomic predicament, because some authorities still recognize the first two as distinct but have difficulty determining where C. frutescens fits into the picture.
Capsicum annum var. glabrisculum
Capsicum annum var. glabrisculum is a semiwild species known as bird pepper. This highly variable, tiny, erect, usually red pepper is cultivated commercially in the area around Sonora, Mexico, and seems to be in the process of domestication. It has a distinct flavor and high pungency and is avidly consumed throughout its natural range, which extends through the southernmost parts of the United States to Colombia. Birds are also keen consumers. These chillies, which have many vernacular names and almost as many synonyms (Capsicum aviculare is the most common), sell for 10 times the price of cultivated green bell peppers.
Capsicum chinense Jacquin
There are two or more small, white-to-greenish-white flowers with purple anthers per node of C. chinense, often hanging in clusters. The fruit is variform, with cream-colored seeds that tend to require a longer germination period than C. annuum. C. chinense was domesticated in the lowland jungle of the western Amazon River basin and was carried to the islands of the Caribbean before 1492. It has diffused throughout the world but to a much lesser degree than C. annuum, probably because it does not store or dry well. Nonetheless, it is becoming ever more widely appreciated by cooks and gardeners for its pungency, aroma, and unique flavor, and ever more important in medical, pharmaceutical, and food-industry applications because of its high capsaicin content. Although this morphologically distinct pepper is still considered to be a part of the C. annuum complex, there are those who question its position in the genus on genetic grounds.
Capsicum frutescens Linné
Some authors no longer list the semiwild C. frutescens as a sustainable species. Although it was once considered to be a member of the C. annuum complex, which included three white-flowered species thought to have a mutual ancestor, scholars now have considerable doubt as to the position of the first two in the genus. The small greenish-white flowers of C. frutescens have purple anthers. The small fruit with cream-colored seed is always erect, never sweet, and two or more occur at each node. The tabasco pepper is the only variety of this species known to have been cultivated commercially, and this activity has been limited to the Western Hemisphere.
Following the arrival of the Europeans in the Western Hemisphere, the tropical perennial capsicum spread rapidly. It quickly became pantropic and the dominant spice and condiment in the tropical and subtropical areas of the world. In addition, it is an important green vegetable throughout the temperate regions, where it is grown as an annual. Concentrated breeding studies are producing Capsicum varieties that can be cultivated in environments quite different from the tropical home of the original.
Capsicums have a lot to recommend them nutritionally. By weight, they contain more vitamin A than any other food plant, and they are also a good source of the B vitamins. When eaten raw, capsicums are superior to citrus in providing vitamin C, although their production of vitamin C diminishes with maturity and drying and (as in all plant foods) is destroyed by exposure to oxygen. By contrast, vitamin A increases as peppers mature and dry and is not affected by exposure to oxygen.
Capsicums also contain significant amounts of magnesium and iron. Chillies, of course, are not eaten in large quantities, but even small amounts are important in cases where traditional diets provide only marginal supplies of vitamins and minerals.
The Pungent Principle
A unique group of mouth-warming, amide-type alkaloids, containing a small vanilloid structural component, is responsible for the burning sensation associated with capsicums by acting directly on the pain receptors in the mouth and throat. This vanilloid element is present in other pungent plants used for spices, like ginger and black pepper. Birds and certain other creatures, such as snails and frogs, do not have specific neuroreceptors for pungent vanilloid compounds as do humans and other mammals; consequently, their contact with capsaicinoids has no adverse effects (Nabhan 1985).
The vanillyl amide compounds or capsaicinoids (abbreviated CAPS) in Capsicum are predominantly (about 69 percent) capsaicin (C). Dihydrodcapsaicin (DHC) (22 percent), nordihydrocapsaicin (NDHC) (7 percent), homocapsaicin (HC) (1 percent), and homodihydrocapsaicin (HDHC) (1 percent) account for most of the remainder (Masada et al. 1971; Trease and Evans 1983).The primary heat contributors are C and DHC, but the delayed action of HDHC is the most irritating and difficult to quell (Mathew et al. 1971).
Three of these capsaicinoid components cause the sensation of “rapid bite” at the back of the palate and throat, and two others cause a long, low-intensity bite on the tongue and the middle palate. Differences in the proportions of these compounds may account for the characteristic “burns” of the different types of capsicum cultivars (McGee 1984: 12; Govindarajan 1986).
In both sweet and pungent capsicums, the major part of the organs secreting these pungent alkaloids is localized in the placenta, to which the seeds are attached, along with dissepiment (veins or cross walls) (Heiser and Smith 1953). The seeds contain only a low concentration of CAPS. The capsaicin content is influenced by the growing conditions of the plant and the age of the fruit and is possibly variety-specific (Govindarajan 1986: 336-8). Dry, stressful conditions will increase the amount of CAPS. Beginning about the eleventh day of fruit development, the CAPS content increases, becoming detectable when the fruit is about four weeks old. It reaches its peak just before maturity, then drops somewhat in the ripening stage (Govindarajan 1985). Sun-drying generally reduces the CAPS content, whereas the highest retention of CAPS is obtained when the fruits are air-dried with minimum exposure to sunlight.
Capsaicin is hard to detect by chemical tests. It has virtually no odor or flavor, but a drop of a solution containing one part in 100,000 causes a persistent burning on the tongue (Nelson 1910). The original Scoville Organoleptic Test has largely been replaced by the use of high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC), a highly reproducible technique for quantifying capsaicinoids in capsicum products. However, the results apply solely to the fruit tested, and therefore they are considered only as a general guide (Todd, Bensinger, and Biftu 1977). Capsaicin is eight times more pungent than the piperine in black pepper. But unlike black pepper, which inhibits all tastes, CAPS obstructs only the perception of sour and bitter; it does not impair the discernment of other gustatory characteristics of food.
Capsaicin activates the defensive and digestive systems by acting as an irritant to the oral and gastrointestinal membranes (Viranuvatti et al. 1972). That irritation increases the flow of saliva and gastric acids and also stimulates the appetite. These functions work together to aid the digestion of food. The increased saliva helps ease the passage of food through the mouth to the stomach, where it is mixed with the activated gastric juice (Solanke 1973). Ingesting CAPS also causes the neck, face, and front of the chest to sweat in a reflexive response to the burning in the mouth (Lee 1954).Very little CAPS is absorbed as it passes through the digestive tract (Diehl and Bauer 1978).
Capsaicin is not water soluble, but the addition of a small amount of chlorine or ammonia will ionize the CAPS compound, changing it into a soluble salt (Andrews 1984: 127) that can be used to rinse CAPS from the skin. Like many organic compounds, CAPS is soluble in alcohol. Oral burning can be relieved by lipoproteins, such as casein, that remove CAPS by breaking the bond it has formed with the pain receptors in the mouth (Henkin 1991). Milk and yoghurt are the most readily available sources of the casein. Because casein, and not fat, removes capsaicin, butter and cheese will not have the same effect as milk.
Studies of CAPS and its relationship to substance P, a neuropeptide that sends the message of pain to our brains, have led investigators to conclude that CAPS has the capacity to deplete nerves of their supply of substance P, thereby preventing the transmission of such messages (Rozin 1990).
Consequently, CAPS is now used to treat the pain associated with shingles, rheumatoid arthritis, and “phantom-limb” pain. It may prove to be a nonaddictive alternative to the habit-forming drugs used to control pain from other causes. It does not act on other sensory receptors, such as those for taste and smell, but is specific to pain receptors. Such specificity is becoming a valuable aid to medical research.
Aroma, Flavor, and Color
The flavor compound of capsicums is located in the outer wall of the fruit (pericarp): Very little is found in the placenta and cross wall and essentially none in the seeds. Color and flavor go hand in hand because the flavoring principle appears to be associated with the carotenoid pigment: Strong color and strong flavor are linked. Capsicum pubescens (rocoto) and the varieties of C. chinense are more aromatic and have a decidedly different flavor from those of C. annuum var. annuum. The carotenoid pigments responsible for the color in capsicums make peppers commercially important worldwide as natural dyes in food and drug products. Red capsanthin is the most important pigment. All capsicums will change color from green to other hues—red, brown, yellow, orange, purple, and ripe green—as they mature.
Taste and smell are separate perceptions. Several aroma compounds produce the fragrance. The taste buds on the tongue can discern certain flavors at dilutions up to one part in two million, but odors can be detected at a dilution of one part in one billion. The more delicate flavors of foods are recognized as aromas in the nasal cavity adjacent to the mouth.
Peppers are best transplanted and not planted directly into the soil outdoors. The seeds should be started in greenhouse benches, flats, or hotbeds at least six weeks before the first frost-free date. They ought to be sown as thinly as possible on a sterile medium and covered no deeper than the thickness of the seed. It is best to water them from the top, with care taken to not dislodge the seed. The seed or seedlings should never be permitted to dry or wilt from the time they are sown until they are transplanted and well started. Germination will require 12 to 21 days at a constant temperature of 21° C for C. annuumvar. annuum, and longer for the other species.
When the true leaves are well formed, one may transplant the seedlings into containers or flats, containing equal parts peat, sand, and loam, and grow them at 21° C. After the plants attain a height of 12 to 15 centimeters (cm), and all danger of frost is past, they can be planted (deeply) in friable soil that is not below 13° C. The plants should be spaced 30 cm apart in rows 38 to 76 cm apart. Peppers require full sun and well-drained soil. They are warm-season plants that do better in a moderate climate, with the optimum temperature for good yields between 18.5° C and 26.5° C during fruit setting (Andrews 1984).
Economic and Other Uses
Perhaps no other cultivated economic plants have fruits with so many shapes, colors, and uses over such a widespread area of the earth as do those belonging to the genus Capsicum.
Before World War II, capsicums were eaten daily by one-fourth of the world’s population, primarily in the pantropical belt and Korea. Since that time, their consumption as a condiment, spice, and vegetable has continued to increase annually and is no longer limited to the tropical and subtropical areas. Some of the more common food products made with chillies are curry powder, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, dried whole peppers, chili powder, paprika, pepper sauce, pickled and processed peppers, pimento, and salsa picante. In 1992, the monetary value of sales of salsa picante, a bottled sauce of Mexican origin made with chillies, onions, and tomatoes, overtook that of tomato catsup in the United States.
However, the use of capsicums goes beyond that of food. The florist and landscape industries have discovered the ornamental qualities of pepper plants to be of considerable value, and designers of tableware, home decorations, fabrics, and paper goods find them to be a popular decorative motif. The medical profession has discovered that certain folk-medicine practices employing chillies, some of which are prehistoric in origin, have merit. Capsaicin, the pungent alkaloid unique to capsicums, is being utilized in modern medicine to treat pain, respiratory disorders, shingles, toothache, and arthritis, and research into the properties of capsaicinoids continues.