The red peppers, native to warm temperate and tropical regions of America and widely cultivated elsewhere, are various species of Capsicum (of the nightshade family), especially the numerous varieties of C. frutescens. These bushy, woody-stemmed plants were cultivated in South America prior to the time of Columbus, who is said to have taken specimens back to Europe. The "hot" varieties include cayenne pepper, whose dried ground fruit is sold as a spice, and the chili pepper, sold similarly as a powder or in a sauce (one variety is known in the United States by the trade name Tabasco). The chili pepper is much used in cooking in Mexico, where some 200 varieties are known. Paprika (the Hungarian name for red pepper) is a ground spice from a less pungent variety widely cultivated in Central Europe.
The pimiento, or Spanish pepper, with a small fruit used as a condiment and for stuffing olives, and the sweet red and green peppers, with larger fruits used as table vegetables and in salads, are mild types. (The pimiento should not be confused with the pimento or allspice, of the myrtle family.) A variety of C. frutescens with delicate leaves and cherrylike fruit is grown as an ornamental and house plant.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.