In 1749 an unusual plant was waving in the fields of Limhamn, outside the southern Swedish town of Malmö. Carl von Linnė, who at that time was touring the southern province of Skåne, was so impressed with this vegetable that he made note of it in his travelogue. As he understood it, after listening to the local farmers, this was an annual Capsicum that was grown so the farmers could add potency to the local aquavit, and Linnė gave the plant the name annuum, which means annual. What he didn’t know is that chili is a perennial plant if grown in a tropical climate. A few years later the species’ name was included in Species plantarum, and as such was accepted internationally, which means that confusion still reigns today. Capsicum annuum is quite simply a perennial plant that is grown as an annual in a cold climate.
C. annuum is the biggest and most variety-rich species within the family, with chilis that can stay as low as around 7-3/4" (20 cm.) or grow as high as 6-1/2 feet (2 meters) in one season. Bell pepper belongs to the same family as chili, and they are both subgroups of C. annuum. Plants with sweet fruits are attributed to the bell pepper group and those with hot fruits to the chili pepper group. However, the border is fluid and it’s not always easy to place the mild fruits in the right category.
The growth habit varies from tidy to sprawling; the leaves can be large or small, smooth or dented, green or purplish. The flowers are white, yellowy white, or lilac. The fruits vary in heat strength, size, color, form, and flavor. In this species you’ll find ripe fruits in all the chili colors, even white, beige, lilac, and black. To pick out a C. annuum, the simplest way is to first rule out that the plant doesn’t belong to one of the other of the four common species. Now, that isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. For example, the jalapeño variety Farmers’ Market is hairy, which is usually a characteristic for Rocoto peppers. On the other hand, Farmers’ Market doesn’t have black seeds and is therefore a C. annuum. To complicate things further, the annum varieties crossbreed both with each other and with varieties from the other species except C. pubescens.
Height: 22⁄3’–3-1/4’ (80 cm.–100 cm.)
Fruit: 3-1⁄5”–4” (8 cm.–10 cm.), oblong; red
Strength/heat: 3 (1,500–2,500 SHU)
Other: A classic Korean chili that is used in the national dish, kimchi. Gochu is the Korean word for chili. Chili paste made from Hong Gochu is called gochujang, and the dried powder’s name is gochugaru.
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Excerpted with permission from Chilis: How to Grow, Harvest, and Cook with Your Favorite Hot Peppers, with 200 Varieties and 50 Spicy Recipes by Kerstin Rosengren and Eva Robild. Copyright 2019 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.