Chili peppers are eaten by a quarter of the earth’s population every day, in countries all over the globe.
Early reports from conquerors cited a large presence of chillies in Aztec and Mayan traditions, used not only to flavour food but also to fumigate houses and to help cure illness.
They are perennial shrubs belonging to the Capsicum family and were completely unknown to most of the world until Christopher Columbus made his way to the New World in 1492. Columbus was seeking a new trade route to Asia, looking for black peppercorns. The peppercorns were known as “black gold” because of their value as a commodity, often used to pay rent or salaries. Until well after the Middle Ages, almost all of the world’s pepper travelled from the Malabar Coast, in India. From there it was traded via the Levant and the merchants of Venice to the rest of Europe — that is until the Ottoman empire cut off the trade route in the mid-1400s.
Columbus was the first step in the spread of the chilli, but despite the fact that he brought the aji chillies back to Spain, it was the Portuguese and their broad trade routes that can be credited with the rapid adoption of chilli peppers elsewhere in the world.
In 1510, Goa fell to the Portuguese under the leadership of Afonzo de Albuquerque. Located in the spice-rich Malabar Coast, the strategic city established increased Portuguese control over the spice trade. Per Andrews, a Portuguese official in India from 1500-1516 reported that the new spice of chilli peppers was welcomed by Indian cooks who, accustomed to pungent black pepper and biting ginger, already produced spicy foods. This powerful red plant would do quite well in India.
Another route of trade started at Diu, which juts out of the west coast of India. Diu fell after the Sultan of Gujarat formed an unhappy and ultimately unsuccessful defensive alliance with the Portuguese in the 16th century. The city’s location made it an important port on the trade routes of the Arabian sea. In the case of our chillies, they went from Diu and Surat on the Gulf of Cambay, inland toward the Ganges, up the Brahmaputra River, and across the Himalayas to Sichuan.
Most of the green chillies that are cultivated in India belong to the Capsicum annuum species. This includes non-spicy varieties such as bell peppers as well as hotter varieties.
Endorphins are released into the body when the brain responds to capsaicin, a chemical contained in the capsicum pod which causes them to be hot. When eaten the chemical which flows throughout the veins of the capsicum pod is released into the mouth where nerve endings set off an alarm in the brain. The brain is conned into thinking the body is in distress and pain and immediately opens the sluice gates. The mouth and eyes water, the heartbeat increases, the nose begins to drip and the head perspires.
The heat of a chilli is measured in Scoville Heat Units or SHU and capsicum ranges from 0 SHU ( Simla Mirch or Bell Peppers) to approximately 1000,000 SHU, the latter from a chilli called the Bhoot Jholakia (ghost chilli).
Chilies contain health benefiting an alkaloid compound, capsaicin, which gives them strong spicy, pungent character. Early laboratory studies on experimental mammals suggest that capsaicin has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties. It also found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels in obese.
They are also good in other antioxidants such as vitamin-A, and flavonoids like ß-carotene, α -carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin. These antioxidant substances in capsicum help protect the body from injurious effects of free radicals generated during stress, diseases conditions.
Types of Chillies found in India are:
1. Kashmiri –
Grown in temperate regions such as Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and also in sub-tropical regions of North India during winter season. This chilli is known more for its colour than its spice, this chilli is ground into a powder and used not only in Kashmiri dishes but in many dishes across the country and the world to add a beautiful red colour to the dish as well as enhance the dish’s taste. Harvesting season – November to February. Capsaicine – 0.325%
2. Mathania –
Mathania is a town in the Jodhpur district of Rajasthan, India. The chillies grown here ave a powerful aroma and flavour but go easy on the heat. Mathania chilly is said to be on the verge of extinction as not many takers for it. It is used in rajasthani dishes like Lal Maas (Red Meat).
3. Longi Chilli –
Mostly found in the Bikaner. Longi Mirch is the most sharp chilly in India. Its powder is used in the manufacturing of Bikaneri Bhujia & other Namkeen items.
4. Jwala Chilli –
Grown in Kheda, Mehsana & in South Gujarat. This chilli is highly pungent, light red in colour, short and the seeds are compact. Pods long and slender (10-12 cm). Harvesting season-September to December. Capsaicine-0.4%
5. Bhavnagari –
Bhavnagari long chilli plants produce good yields of 13cm (5in) long by 2cm (¾in) wide hot peppers. Used in green form to make stuffed chilli dishes.
6. Boriya Mirch –
Its unique look might make it resemble a Habanero chilli or even a cherry tomato, but according to reports, it gets its name from the word ‘berry’ (or ‘ber’ in Hindi) as it looks like one. It is extremely spicy and is often used in tadkas to give a variety of preparations a rich flavour.
7. Reshampatti –
They are mild and are wonderful for stuffing for achaar (pickle). Mostly grown in the west of India.
8. Sankeshwari –
The Sankeshwari mirchi is used most commonly to make chilli powder. Sankeshwar being close to Kolhapur (Maharashtra), plus the addition of the lavangi mirchi, is probably a reason why Kolhapuri food was always much much hotter than Pune food. Sankeshwari chilly has a bright orange colour and local people use this powder fairly generously when short of other expensive masalas.
9. Sangli Sannam –
Grown in Kolhapur District of Maharashtra. Light red in colour and hot. Harvesting season – September to November. Capsaicin – 0.215%
10. Titimiti –
In a Goan curry, one tends to use 70% bedgi and 30% Titimiti chillies. Titimiti is the Konkani name for these chillies and they are generally only available in Goa.They are a bright orange-red , about a 1.5 ” in length. They are responsible for the colour and taste of a true Goan prawn curry but are also used for a pork or chicken roast.
11. Aldona –
Another nice Goan chilli is the black red Aldona mirchi of which there are two varieties, one double the width of the other, which is also used in roasts. Goan cuisine has many different varieties of chillies perhaps because of Portuguese influences.
12. Tarvati –
A slim long chilli of about three inches in length it is also used in local dishes very often. It is also called Portuguese chilli.
13. Dhani (Birds Eye Chili) –
Its the dried form of birds eye chilli. It’s really spicy and hot and pungent. It is used not only in cooking but also used in chutneys and pickles. Grown in Mizoram & some areas of Manipur. Harvesting season – October to December. Capsaicine – 0.589%
14. Naga Bhut Jolokia –
These chillies are also known as ghost pepper, ghost chilli. It is one of the world’s hottest chilli pepper, 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. The Ghost chilli is rated at more than 1 million Scoville heat units (SHUs). A study showed that Bhut jolokia peppers grown in Tezpur (Assam) are more than twice as hot as those grown in Gwalior’s more arid climate.
15. Guntur –
It widely grows in Guntur, Warangal, and Khammam districts of Andhra Pradesh. The skin of chilli is thick, red and hot. It accounts for roughly 30% of India’s chilli exports. It has its peak harvesting season from December to May. Other Guntur Chilis are Sannam, Teja, Phatki, Indo-5, Ankur, Roshni, Bedki and Madhubala. Capsaicine-0.226%
16. Warangal Chappatta (Tomato Chilli) –
Is peculiar to the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh. They are short and deep red in colour and are slightly less pungent and milder in flavour. Harvesting season – December to March. Capsaicin – 0.17%
17. Tadappally/ Tadepalli Chillies –
Grown in Tadappally in Andhra Pradesh. Red in colour, less pungent, thick skin. Harvest Season – January to April. Capsaicin – 0.11%
18. Hindpur –
Grown in Hindpur in Andhra Pradesh. Red in colour, hot and highly pungent.
Harvesting season – December to March. Capsaicin – 0.24%
19. Madras Pari –
Grown in Nellore District of Andhra Pradesh. Pure red in colour and hot. Harvesting season – March to May. Capsaicin – 0.206%
20. Gundu Molzuka or Ramnad Mundu –
Grown in Ramnad District of Tamil Nadu. Mundu, on the other hand, comes with a yellowish-scarlet red colour and is fairly hot and pungent with a medium heat. These are fairly spherical and are also known as gundu molzuka or ramnad mundu. Yellowish red and hot. Harvesting season – March to May. Capsaicin – 0.166%
21. Salem Gundu –
It’s the most popular chilli used in Tamil Nadu and its medium hot. Gundu in Tamil means fat. It’s a small round fat chilli with lots of seeds in it. Its widely used in making chutney and sambar and for tempering / tadka purposes.
22. Kanthari White –
They are ivory white in colour and mildly spicy, small in size and flat-bodied. Kanthari chillies are a unique variety of Bird’s Eye Chilli. These are often soaked in yoghurt and salt, and then sun-dried and used as a condiment. Grown in Kerala & some parts of Tamil Nadu. Capsaicine – 0.504%
23. Sattur – Grown in Dindigul, Sattur, Rajapalayam, Sankarankoil & Theni in Tamil Nadu. Red in colour, pungent with thick skin. Harvesting season – September to March. Capsaicin – 0.24%
24. Scotch Bonnet –
Introduced from Jamaica. Cultivation in India is on the initial stage. Studies show that it comes up well in the hill regions of Kerala & Karnataka. Chilli is short round & yellowish in colour with the terminal end sucked inside. Capsaicin – 0.878%
25. Bedgi or Byadagi (Kaddi) –
Byadagi Chillies come from the Haveri district in Karnataka. The chilli is long and wrinkled and deeply red. Its not very hot but imparts a dark colour and aroma. The dried chilli is deep red in colour with a mild pungency but aromatic flavour. Harvesting season – January to May. Capsaicine – Negligible. It is about 30,000 SHU.
26. Pandi Mirchi –
The Pandi Chilli is a medium-spicy chilli that grows across Southern India. Pandi is small with a shiny skin and pale red. It’s spicier than other red chillies but lacks colour. It is usually used in South Indian dishes like curries, subzis, podis and other such dishes as well.
27. Bhiwapur –
Bhiwapur is a town and a tehsil in Umred subdivision of Nagpur district. The skin of Bhiwapuri Chilli has shelf-life of a one-and-a-half year to two years. Being pungent in nature, less amount of powder of Bhiwapuri Chilli is used in edible items compared to other varieties. The length is approximately 1.5 inch. The red colour is darker than other chilli varieties like Guntur Chilli. The powder of Bhiwapuri Chilli gives red colour to food items without any side effects like acidity. The chilli has its own geographical identification (GI) certificate.
28. Nalchetti –
Grown in Nagpur District of Maharashtra. Red in colour and extremely pungent
Harvesting season- January to March.
29. Ellachipur Sannam –
Grown in Amaravati District of Maharashtra. Reddish in colour and very hot. Harvesting season-September to December. Capsaicine-0.2%
30. Madhya Pradesh Sannam –
It is hot and pungent. Red in colour. Grown in Indore, Malkapur Chikli and Elachpur areas of Madhya Pradesh. Harvesting season – January to March.
For a non-native plant of India, there is enough variety that is currently found in India. I tried to find as many varieties I could but there could be more chillies in India that this list. Let me know in comments for any additions.