Chillies, popularly known as Chilli peppers are the fruits of plants belonging to Capsicum family. Originated in America, it was misidentified as peppers during Columbus’ discovery of America. With him, chillies reached Europe. Pungency in chillies proffered a substitute for peppercorns, in adding flavours to culinary dishes. Portuguese introduced chillies to India in fifteenth century.
There are around fifty thousand varieties of chillies around the world. Commonly cultivated chillies are grouped into five species based on their characteristic features and region of distribution. Chillies grown in India are part of the species called Capsicum Frutescens. These are small, pungent, varies from pale yellow to bright red in colour.
Pungency or the burning sensation produced while eating chillies, is caused mainly by the presence of Capsaicin and its related compounds. Level of pungency is calculated in Scoville Heat Units. Chilli extract is diluted with sugar syrup till burning sensation is nullified and the ratio of dilution is considered as SHU value. This method gives an estimate of pungency, but not the accurate value, as the test involves human evaluation.
Though the SHU value ranges up to 2.2 million units, chillies having SHU value between 0-350000 are known to be consumed by humans. They are rich source of Vitamins C, B6, B1, K. Apart from being used in cuisines, chillies serve their purpose in medicine with its anti-bacterial properties and used as insecticide.
While China leads the world in the production of green chillies, India is the largest producer and exporter of dry chillies in the world. India contributed 41% of global exports of dry chillies in 2016. Southern and central Indian states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Maharastra, Orissa lead in the production of chillies.