Pepper (Capsicum ssp., Family: Solanaceae) is the 2016 Herb of the Year and is of particular interest to Americans because it is one of our continent's native spices. Long before the Spaniards arrived from the Old World, cultivated capsicums were growing in widely distributed areas of the New World. The native Indians called them Agi, the Mexicans called them chilis, and the Spanish came to call them pimientos.
The capsicums make up a varied and fascinating genus. They are shrub-like in their native tropical and subtropical climes, but must be treated as annuals in temperate and northern zones where they grow into small-to-medium-sized garden plants. Capsicum peppers vary in color, size, and pungency, with the smallest peppers or pods packing the greatest wallop. The color spectrum ranges from white, yellow, brown, green, deep violet, yellow-red to scarlet. Pungency comes from a principle called capsaicin, described as a powerful irritant. Value is determined by pungency ratings in laboratory tests.
Capsicum peppers are an important ingredient of many popular seasonings: chili powder, curry powder, and Tabasco sauce. In addition we have the milder preserved pimientos, ground paprika, and sweet pepper flakes. The hot varieties are processed into ground or crushed red pepper and cayenne pepper.