There are about 4,000 varieties of chili in the world. These can be divided into five Capsicum species and a further 28 wild forms.
Cultivated chilli varieties can usually be assigned to these five species:
- Capsicum annuum
- Capsicum baccatum
- Capsicum chinense
- Capsicum frutescens
- Capsicum pubescens
The largest group is Capsicum annum, while particularly sharp chillies regularly belong to Capsicum chinense. More rare are wild chili varieties which can be divided into around 28 subspecies. In different sources this number varies slightly. Sometimes their unambiguous determination is not easy.
Chili plants have been cultivated by humans for about 6,000 years. Excavations have shown that the hot berries were collected and eaten much earlier. Chili plants spread across the American continent from Mexico to Brazil, Cuba and finally from the southern states of the USA to Chile.
When Christopher Columbus brought capsicum plants with him from his travels, the spice quickly became known in Europe as “Spanish pepper”. A characteristic that immediately catches the eye is its sharpness. This is divided into a degree of sharpness of 0 to 10 or more precisely on the Scoville scale. Habaneros are located at the upper end of the scale because they are the sharper chilli varieties. Bhut Jolokia, Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and Carolina Reaper show that it goes even further, because they are known worldwide as the sharpest chillies.
In addition to the pungency, their pods differ in taste, size and colour of the ripe fruit.