Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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chilli a general term, derived from the Nahuatl language, for a wide range of fruits of the genus Capsicum (but not including the larger, mild-tasting pimiento or sweet pepper, for which see capsicum).

Five species of capsicum are cultivated, but most modern cultivars are bred from either C. annuum or C. frutescens (with C. chinense well behind in third place). The second of these may have evolved later; by and large, its fruits are hotter. This hotness could be the result of natural selection, in the wild plant, as a defence against the seeds being eaten, or of selection by growers over the very long period of cultivation.