Fruit and Vegetables

Chili pepper plant

The origins of chilli

Chili is a plant believed to have originated in the mountains between Brazil and Bolivia, exported thanks to the birds and the native population that brought the seeds out of their areas of origin. Subsequently the hot pepper was a plant used and cultivated since 5500 BC in Mexico and in Peru, where it was the only spice that was used for food preparation. It was imported into Spain, by Christopher Columbus in 1493, as an ornamental plant and later used as a spice. Between 1500 and 1600 Spanish and Portuguese expeditions brought chili plants also to Africa and Asia and thanks to its ability to acclimatise easily favored their spread, becoming the most widespread and used spice, having contained costs for cultivation.

History of chilli

The chili pepper (capsicum sp.) Is part of the family of the Solanaceae, the same to which the tomato, aubergine, potato and tobacco belong. The first traces of food consumption of this spice by man were found in Perщ and date back to around 8500 years ago, but its cultivation spread later throughout Latin America. In Europe it came thanks to Christopher Columbus and immediately had a great success, mainly due to the ease of cultivation also in our continent (unlike other spices). It was therefore nicknamed "pepper of the poor" from which "peperone" and also "peperoncino".
The first country in which it became popular was Spain, but soon after it arrived in Southern Italy, which at the time was part of the extensive Iberian domains. With us it was immediately appreciated (unlike eggplant and tomato, considered poisonous) for its low cost and for the antiseptic and preservative virtues.
This solanacea spread even very much in other geographical areas, particularly in Southeast Asia, where it is still massively cultivated and has become part of many traditional dishes. Furthermore, research and selection have been unleashed to get fruits of various shapes and sizes and, above all, with different degrees of spiciness and specific aftertaste.


The chili plant is a short-lived perennial shrub. The plants have a variable shape depending on the species, they can be bushy with green leaves and white flowers, or they can have the shape of a shrub of different sizes. Resistance to atmospheric conditions depends on the type, in fact there are varieties that resist even sub-zero temperatures for short periods or some that do not resist excessive insolation. The color of the flowers varies for each species between white and purple. The main domestic crops are: the Capsicum annuum which includes the sweet peppers, the common chilli pepper, that of Cayenna and the Jalapeno; the Capsicum chinense, including the Hahanero; the Capsicum frutescens which includes the Tabasco; Capsicum pubescens which includes rocoto.
In Italy we boast some typical products such as the spicy Calabrian round (excellent to fill), the super-spicy Calabrian diavolicchio and the spicy orange of Stromboli.
Among the well-known international varieties are the Cayenna, the Jalapeno, the Tabasco and the Habanero.
Lately it is spreading but a real passion for spicy cultivars and it is now very easy to find them on the market even in common nurseries. Some of the most coveted are: Jamaican Scotch Bonnet, Naga Morich, Habananero Chocolate, Habanero Orange, Trinidad Scorpion chocolate, Dorset Naga, Aji, Habanero Red Savina.

Botanical classification

It belongs to the family of the Solanaceae, but it is a very broad genus, with numerous species, subspecies and cultivars.
To better understand this world, here is a quick review of the main cultivated species.
 Capsicum annuum is the most widespread pepper in our country. It is characterized by flowers with five or six white or purple petals. The fruits are declined in a wide range of shapes and colors and different degrees of hotness. Some of the best known belong to this category: from Cayenne to Jalapeсo.
 Capsicum chinense has spread in Italy only in recent years, thanks to some passionate growers. This species, in fact, is very appreciated because it includes the most spicy specimens of all. It has flowers from white to light green and small or pyramid-shaped fruits. A famous exponent is undoubtedly the Habanero, in all its forms (orange, red, chocolate).
 Capsicum frutescens is fairly common in our country. It is however known for its famous exponent, the Tabasco used for the production of a spicy and sour Mexican sauce. Its quality is important because it also brings a delicately fruity and unmistakable aftertaste.
 Capsicum pubescens is not common to us. It is especially appreciated for its good rusticity. Precisely because of this resistance it was among the first to be domesticated by man
 Finally the capsicum baccatum produces only medium spicy and slightly bitter fruits, very interesting to create culinary combinations.
Then there are still at least 20 other species, little known and widespread that are however used to create hybrids.

The classification of the peppers based on the spiciness

The burning sensation that the chili pepper gives us is caused by some alkaloids, originally synthesized by the plant for defensive purposes (ie to prevent its fruits from being eaten by animals, or in any case to make its seeds spit out, which in fact, together with the white skin , are the area in which the substance is more concentrated).
Their name is capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin: they are found not only in this solanacea, but also in ginger, horseradish, pepper and in all those plants that give the mucous membranes a "false" sensation of heat.
In 1912 a scale of spiciness was introduced, called "Scoville scale" (from the name of its inventor) ranging from O (sweet pepper) to 16 000 000, which identifies pure capsaicin. It is also interesting to know that this is not the only alkaloid that acts in this way. Another very well-known and that gives an intense sensation of cold is menthol.


The chili has various properties that can be used for other purposes than to flavor foods. The flavonoids and the capsaicinoids contained in the fruit have an antibacterial effect, in fact the foods cooked with the chili can be kept longer. They are rich in vitamin C and have an antioxidant power. They can also be used to fight colds such as colds, sinusitis and bronchitis or to aid digestion. In some cases it can also be used as a painkiller in case of arthritis or various neuralgia or headaches. The reason why it has such effects on pain could derive from the fact that the sensation of pain caused by capsaicin stimulates the brain to produce endorphins capable of acting as an analgesic.

Chili pepper cultivation

The cultivation of chilli peppers can take place in many conditions, the plant generally does not need a lot of attention and resists adequately to various climates.
Sowing should take place between February and March, with fruit being harvested in summer or in autumn. The sowing should be done in a heated environment around 25-30 degrees in a soil composed of half peat and half of sand.
As soon as the plants have germinated they can be planted in the land chosen for cultivation. Absolutely to check that the temperature does not drop below 15 degrees. Irrigation should be abundant, but absolutely avoid water stagnation in the soil. The fruits should be used fresh, preserved in oil, dried (either powdered or whole) or frozen.
The cultivation technique does not differ particularly from that of the pepper. However, it must be pointed out that chili peppers are often smaller and therefore suitable for growing in pots, on balconies or terraces.


Type of plant

Perennial cultivated as an annual, herbaceous
Height widthUp to 80 cm / up to 45 cm
Water needsMedium-high
ExposureSun, half shade to the south
SoilRich, well-drained
Distance three rows on the row50 cm, 40 cm
Temperature / days for germination16 ° C / 8-10 days

Chilli seeding

The sowing of chilli in the open field is not very widespread. In order to obtain germination, rather high temperatures are needed, which in our country are found continually only from late spring (consequently, the plant would not be able to reach full production in time). For germination at least 8-10 days and an average temperature of 16 ° C are required.
The need to proceed on a warm bed is required. In the Center-South it starts in January-February, in the North from February-March. Trays are used with rather large and deep cells, or cubes of peat. A fairly common technique also involves waiting for germination on cotton or absorbent paper (or directly in water) and then transferring to a jar. The important thing is to keep the humidity very high for at least 24 hours and then place the seeds in a very warm environment for about a week, until the first radicle is emitted.
The transplantation in full field or in the definitive container can be carried out approximately 40-50 days later, when the fifth leaf results well developed. The transfer to the outside must be done indicatively from the end of March for the South and from May-June for the North.
In the open field the distance between the rows must be about 50 cm, in the row instead of about 40. The ideal containers must be at least 35 cm in diameter and rather deep.

Chilli ground

The peppers require medium-textured substrates and, being voracious plants, very rich in organic substance. At the same time the drainage of the water must be optimal and the salinity rather low.
In pot the ideal is to mix at least 50% of field soil with soil for flowering plants, adding a few handfuls of manure. On the bottom a thick draining layer must be created.

Chili pepper exposure and climate

The peppers originate from tropical or equatorial areas and are very sensitive to low temperatures. In order to have an optimal development, the diurnal thermal conditions must have settled at 25-28 ° C, the night ones at 16-18 ° C. Higher temperatures can damage flowers and compromise pollination, lower block growth and can lead to irreparable damage.
However, if the deadlines are respected, it is rare that one incurs such problems. The ideal exposure, in the North, is always full sun. In the south, the shade can be appreciated, especially in the afternoon and if the plants are in pots.

How much and how to water the chili pepper

Irrigations must always be abundant both in the open field and in pots. The soil must always be slightly damp, but avoiding water stagnation, especially in the collar area.


The chillies, to give many fruits, must grow in extremely rich soil: in the open field at least 30 or 40 kg of mature manure must be distributed every 10 square meters of cultivation. However, it will certainly be necessary to integrate it with synthetic fertilizers, rich in particular in potassium, magnesium and boron (also useful in pots, where we can also opt for liquid products).

Crop care

It is important to always keep the area free of weeds by intervening often with hoeing and tucking the foot of the seedlings. This also stimulates the production of superficial roots, very useful for absorbing water and nutrients.


The fruits are formed from the end of June and mature until they are warm. The bulk of the collection is concentrated between August and October. We must wait until the fruit is well colored, but still firm to the touch. In the case of very spicy varieties, remember to always use gloves.


The fresh peppers are kept for about a week in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator (or for a few days outside). It is certainly the best time to consume them, because we will be able to taste all the typical nuances of that specific cultivar.
They can, however, also be frozen or dried (by keeping them in the sun, in a well-ventilated area), then keeping them whole or pulverized.
They can also be used to flavor oil.

Chili pepper plant: Chili pepper diseases

Chili has numerous enemies. The common is the borer: it pierces the fruits and damages them from the inside favoring rottenness and bacteriosis. Bacillus thuringiensis preparations are useful.
Among the cryptogams the most dangerous is the blight: useful are large rotations of at least 4 years, good drainage and the use of healthy seeds.
Anthracnose, also quite common, is prevented with cupric acid.
Watch the video



sowing Gennario-February February March
transplant The end of March May June
collection From June to the end of October From July to October