Chile Peppers

What plant is a fruit, but is seen as a vegetable? What plant can be sweet or spicy hot? What plant scares elephants away? The answer is peppers.


Fun Facts

  • Chile peppers belong to the nightshade family, Solanaceae, and they’re related to potatoes, tomatillos, and eggplants. In 2014, 32.3 million tons of green chile peppers were produced in the world. China is the leading producer of chiles.
  • Peppers were probably first cultivated in Mexico around 6,000 years ago. Their use spread throughout Central and South America. Today, Peru grows the largest number of pepper species in the world. Many wild peppers grow in Bolivia and are eaten by the people there.
  • Christopher Columbus was the first European to encounter peppers in the New World. His physician brought them back to Europe and wrote about their medicinal and food properties.
  • Portuguese traders might have introduced peppers to Asia, although recent discoveries have shown that peppers might have already been growing there.
  • There are hundreds of types of peppers, but people eat only a few. Bell peppers are large and juicy; sweet peppers are small, thin-walled, and sweet; chile peppers are hot and pungent.
  • Capsaicin is the chemical compound that gives chile peppers their heat. A chile pepper’s heat is measured by Scoville heat units (SHU). To put it into perspective, a bell pepper contains 0 SHU. The world’s hottest pepper, Pepper X, has 3.18 million SHU. Ouch! Jalapeno peppers contain between 3,500 and 10,000 SHU, while habanero peppers contain 100,000 to 350,000 SHU.
  • Peppers are hotter if they’re grown with infrequent watering.
  • Peppers can be eaten in many ways. Dried peppers are sometimes crushed to make a powder. Peppers can be canned or frozen. Some peppers, such as poblanos, have thick skins. They’re roasted and the skins are peeled off. Chipotle peppers are smoked, dried jalapeno peppers.
  • Asian cuisine often features peppers. Most curries contain peppers, as well as other Indian, Thai, and Chinese dishes.
  • Most plants in the Solanaceae family have toxic leaves; peppers are one exception. The leaves can be steamed and eaten as greens.
  • In India and Africa, elephants often eat farmers’ crops. They don’t like pepper plants though. Farmers have discovered that if they grow a few pepper plants on the outsides of the fields, elephants stay away.


Questions and Answers

Question: Are peppers hard to grow?

Answer: Peppers are among the easiest garden vegetables to grow. They need lots of sun, water, and rich soil. They grow slowly so most gardeners buy plants from a nursery or garden store.

Learn More

Watch a video and read more about peppers.