Sunday, 1 July 2012

Hot stuff – growing Capsicum Peppers


Green Bell Pepper

Many people enjoy eating hot spicy dishes such as curries, and also like growing their own plants, and this is where the many species of Peppers (Capsicum) are ideal for both purposes. Chilli Peppers and Sweet Peppers are very easy to grow and you can use their fruits too.

There are so many to choose from. There are the very hot Chilli, Cherry and Cayenne Peppers, and many varieties and cultivars available within these groups, and there are the much larger Bell or Sweet Peppers that are not hot to taste and are eaten in many ways.

In fact there are over 1,000 cultivars grown in the world with a very wide range of colours, shapes and degree of pungency. Most cultivated Peppers are either of the C. annuum var. annuum or C. frutescens species.

Pepper groups
Peppers can loosely be included in five separate groups. There is the Cerasiforme Group (Cherry Peppers), with small and very hot fruit, the Conoides Group (Cone Peppers) with erect and cone-shaped fruit, the Fasiculatum Group (Red Cone Peppers) with thin red and very hot fruit, the Grossum Group (Bell Peppers, Sweet Peppers and Pimientos), with large sweet fruit that are green and ripen to red or yellow, and finally the Longum Group (Cayenne and Chilli Peppers) with drooping, very hot-tasting fruit that are the source of Chilli Powder, Cayenne Pepper and Tabasco Sauce. There are books about Peppers such as The Whole Chile Pepper Book that comes with over 180 hot and spicy recipes using them.

Growing Peppers
The Peppers are all annuals or short-lived perennials and grow easily from seed. They are all frost-tender so need to be grown in greenhouses or indoors in temperate zones and countries like the UK. They grow fine outdoors in subtropical and tropical areas of the world as long as they have enough water.

I have personally grown them well in pots on a balcony in Tenerife and in my house when I lived in Britain.  My good friend Chris Fowler, who lives in Cardiff, became so involved in his hobby of growing Peppers that he has been successfully cultivating many different varieties, and set up a small business selling his produce. He has posted lots of photos of his Peppers at his Facebook site.

The plants do best in well-drained nutrient-rich soil and germinate easily enough. I have grown Peppers from seeds I have taken from fruit I have bought or been given but you can, of course, buy named varieties in packets of seed commercially available. Most Peppers form bushy plants with small white flowers that turn into green fruit that change colour as they ripen and grow larger.


Cherry Peppers


History of Capsicum Peppers
Capsicums were first introduced to Europe and the Western world after being brough from Mexico following Columbus’s voyage of 1942. A doctor who had sailed with him and noticed how the Native Americans used the fruit for flavouring food and as medicines, such as toothache remedies and pain relievers. It is said that the Portuguese then took Peppers to Africa and India.

Medicinal uses and properties
The bitter alkaloid Capsaicin has been established as a pain-killer.  Peppers are also antibacterial and contain vitamins A and C, as well as minerals. Hot varieties increase blood flow, stimulate sweating and are good for the digestion. Capsaicin can be made into an analgesic cream used to treat rheumatism, arthritis and aching joints.

Culinary uses
Sweet Peppers can be eaten raw in salads or cooked as vegetables. They can be stuffed or added as ingredients to other mixed dishes such as sauces for pasta, for pizzas and in soups and stews. Hot Chilli and other very pungent Peppers are added to pickles and chutneys, as well as providing their hot spiciness for Indian, Thai, Mexican and other cuisines of the world.


Chilli Pepper


And finally...
From this short introduction to Capsicum Peppers I am sure you will see many reasons why they make excellent plants to grow, but a word of warning: the hot Peppers can cause painful inflammation if they are brought into contact with mucous membranes. So if you have been handling Chilli Peppers do not touch your eyes or other sensitive parts of the body or you will regret not washing your hands first!


Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.
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