The peppers belong to the genus capsicum, from the Solanaceae family, such as tomatoes and aubergines, and like many other plants it is native to South America; the most cultivated species is the capsicum annuum, a perennial but short-lived plant, which is usually cultivated as an annual plant. From this species many varieties are derived, starting from small red hot peppers, to large sweet peppers, more fleshy and absolutely not spicy. There are dozens of hybrids and cultivars, with various shapes and colors, and with different degrees of hotness. Most of the essential oil contained in a chili pepper, which makes it spicy, is contained in the seeds and internal filaments of the pulp; to reduce the spiciness of a chilli pepper it is sufficient to cook it by removing seeds and filaments.
Cultivation of peppers
They come from areas with a mild climate, so in Italy they cannot winter outdoors; usually they should be planted in the garden in May-June, or at least when the minimum temperatures are above 12-15 ° C. If desired it is possible to sow the small seeds already in February-March, in a sheltered place, so as to obtain the small plants to be planted in the garden with the arrival of spring. The hot peppers are generally of small size, and a single plant, which bears up to 15-20 fruits, does not exceed 40-50 cm; sweet pepper plants, on the other hand, are decidedly larger, and therefore occupy more space in the garden: they need to be planted at a distance of at least 40 cm from each other, in order to develop at their best.
Let us place them in a very sunny place, remembering however that these plants love quite cool and not too dry soils: therefore the more direct sun they will take the plants and the more they will have to be watered, especially during the summer months.
The cultivation soil must be well fertile, worked thoroughly and mixed with mature manure, and very well drained, in order to avoid any type of water stagnation.
When planting the plants let us provide them with a guardian, so that they are not bent by the wind; then spread around each seedling of the humus or granular slow release fertilizer.
Watering will be regular, thinning out in spring if the climate is rainy, let's practice them more frequently in summer when the sun is hot.
Harvesting takes place by climbing, as the flowering lasts a few weeks, even the ripening of the fruits will take place during this time.
Hot peppers can be preserved after being dried in the sun; those sweet are generally consumed fresh, or prepared in preserves or in oil.
Peppers in the garden
Peppers and peppers are commonly considered to be two very different vegetable plants, probably because in the culinary field they find very distinct applications. In reality they are both part of the genus Capsicum, which, in turn, is part of the family of the Solanaceae, which is very popular in the gardens as it includes tomatoes, potatoes and aubergines.
Peppers are generally consumed as vegetables, raw or cooked, while chillies are used almost exclusively as a spice or, at most for some particular varieties such as small and round ones, for the preparation of preserves.
History and origins of peppers
All capsicum annum come from the New Continent. The areas of origin range from Brazil to Bolivia. The first spontaneous forms date back to around 7000 BC, but soon (already around 4000 BC) human cultivation began. The plant then spread northward thanks to bird migrations. These, unlike mammals, are totally insensitive to the substance that causes the burning and therefore have no problem eating them and then expelling the seeds.
The Europeans who arrived in America in the 16th century immediately appreciated this vegetable. It became very popular first in Spain and then in other countries of the Old Continent. Later it also became common in Africa and throughout Asia thanks to the trade of Portuguese ships. Especially the hot pepper immediately became an integral part of many cuisines such as Indian, Chinese, Thai and North Africa, often in combination with other spices and herbs.
The name of the pepper and chili pepper is very similar to that of pepper. The first explorers, in fact, believed that the two spices were related in some way, since both were spicy.
Description of the pepper plant
The leaves of all capsicum annum are dicotyledons. This means that when the seed germinates it produces two first leaves composed of the two halves of the seed. These are very different from the final ones of the plant, that is ovate or oblong, not toothed.
The final height is very varied. In fact, there are dwarf plants that practically do not need guardians and others that reach even 200 or 300 cm.
Flowers are produced continuously, even when fruits are already on the plant. Usually the ideal temperature for flowering is from 15 to 22 degrees. Their color is generally white, but there are also some species and hybrids with purple petals.
The fruit, once the pollination has taken place (by insects or thanks to the wind), develops the little fruit from the ovary. The flesh is very firm and contains the white or cream placenta inside. On this are the seeds.
Variety of pepper and chili pepper
Capsicum is a very broad genus of plants that includes at least 30 species, even very different from each other. For the cultivation, however, only 5 of these were considered and which are the basis of all the peppers and chillies that we can find on the market today.
Here is a broad classification (clearly there are also several hybrids).
• Capsicum annum which includes all the sweet peppers and many of the spicy in cultivation in Italy. Some examples are the Cayenne pepper, the Carmagnola pepper, the square d'Asti and the common red pepper.
• Capsicum baccatum plants of considerable size. The most known fruits have the shape of a lantern (for example the bishop's hat and ajм)
• Capsicum chinense in reality of Amazonian origin, exceptionally spicy. Include the habanero and the Naga Jolokia
• Capsicum frutescens which can be cultivated only in tropical or subtropical areas since they need a long time to bear fruit and reach maturity. The best known of these is the Tabasco which combines a fruity aroma with spiciness
• Capsicum pubescens the whole plant is covered with a thin down, has black seeds and purple flowers. The most famous is the South American Rocoto.
The spiciness of the peppers and the Scoville scale
The Scoville scale is the method by which the spiciness of a chili pepper is measured today. In reality it is a completely empirical measurement. In practice the evaluation derives from the tasting of experts who average between different fruits deriving from the same plant (the spiciness can also vary considerably).
The name of this staircase comes from the American chemist Wilbur Scoville who established it in 1912, setting the substance at the base of spiciness at 16 million degrees Scoville: capsaicin. In reality, not only is this substance linked to this sensation, but a whole group of alkaloids (4 others) collectively called capsaicinoids. Each of these has its own relative spiciness, also linked to different flavors (which are easily identifiable by expert tasters).
Starting from the 250000 degrees Scoville the sensation of spiciness turns into a painful sensation. At the varying concentration of capsaicinoids at that point only the persistence of the sensation and the extent of its diffusion varies.
Unlike what many people think, capsaicin is not mostly concentrated in seeds, but in placental tissue, which is the internal white skin.
Capsaicin in any case does not absolutely increase the temperature of the affected parts (depending on the power the burning can extend to the throat and also to the nose). Instead, it has the ability to "fool" a thermoreceptor that sends the sensation of extreme burning to the brain. The same thing, but for the cold, happens with the menthol molecule.
The tips to alleviate spiciness are wasted and some make sense, others less so.
Drinking water is absolutely not recommended because it only spreads the sensation without minimally relieving it.
Cold milk is excellent. In fact the capsaicinoids are agglutinated by casein and thus their action against the receptors is hindered.
The substances responsible for that sensation are soluble in alcohol. However, spirits are preferable because the gradation present in beer, for example, is not sufficient.
Last good method is to eat some bread crumb which, by mechanical action, removes the aforementioned molecules.
In countries where the consumption of chilli is the basis of the diet, other techniques have also been developed over time.
For example, throughout the Far East the burning sensation is attenuated by the ingestion of steamed rice or rather sour whole yogurt mixed with fruit and vegetables.
On the New Continent and particularly in Mexico, whose extremely spicy dishes are legendary, corn or other cereal fritters are used.
How to reduce the spiciness of a pepper or a pepper
It may happen that even sweet peppers are a little spicy and therefore unwelcome to the most delicate of stomach people. Moreover, especially the cultivars with small and round fruits, can be used, stuffed with tuna, anchovies and olives, as preserves in oil and then eaten as appetizing appetizers. In this case, depending on taste, spiciness may have to be eliminated totally or even partially.
The methods to achieve these results are different. However, remember that the alkaloids reside in the placenta, seeds and filaments. Let us therefore commit ourselves, using gloves, to eliminate them carefully.
While doing this processing it is of vital importance to remember not to touch eyes and other mucous membranes that are very sensitive.
The use of peppers in the kitchen
Sweet peppers are commonly used as vegetables. If harvested at full maturity the color will be yellow, red or orange. Usually the red ones retain a hint of spiciness. If immature, and therefore green, crops have a bitter aftertaste.
They can be enjoyed both raw and cooked. In the first case for example in a good pinzimonio, in the bagna cauda or to give color, flavor and crunchiness to salads.
Cooking can be done in different ways: stew, roasted in the oven or on the grill, grilled, in vinegar or in sweet and sour sauce.
In order to be more digestible it is always better to carefully eliminate all the skin. A good method is to put the still hot peppers in a paper bag and this in turn in a plastic one. Heat and humidity will facilitate the detachment.
Use of hot peppers as a spice
In the kitchen it is usually used fresh, dried or ground.
Not all ground peppers are the same because their peculiar characteristics clearly derive from the varieties used. For example, the famous paprika used for the Gulasch derives is almost always made from sweet or slightly spicy peppers.
With them, both fresh and dried, an aromatized oil can be produced, useful on many occasions and for various preparations. Sauces are also widespread, the essential ingredient of which is our capsicum; one of the most famous is the Tabasco which combines spiciness with a very fruity aroma.
Pepper - Capsicum annum: Preservation of peppers
Peppers are one of the vegetables that best lends itself to preservation.
Freshly picked ones should be kept in a warm room, for example with tomatoes. Both of these berries are severely damaged by the cold and therefore it is always better not to keep them in the refrigerator. Their flavor would certainly be lost.
If you want you can instead proceed with drying to be carried out with temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees, possibly in a shaded area but with a good circulation of air to prevent them from becoming moldy. They can also be preserved by blanching them in water and vinegar and then placing them in a well sterilized jar.
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