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Chili Pepper—Specialty Crop Profile
Chili peppers are consumed fresh or in a variety of processed products in many cuisines worldwide. They are used as condiments or spices to add flavor or pungency to dishes. Use in processed products has increased dramatically in recent years. In the U.S., salsa sales now surpass ketchup sales, reflecting on the popularity of Mexican dishes. Chili peppers are used medicinally in Latin America and Africa. In many countries, chilies are part of the daily diet. Some cultivars are also used as ornamentals.
In many regions where chili peppers are widely consumed, they represent one of the few, if not the only, vegetable added to the diet to provide flavor, spice, and variety to grain- or root-crop-based diets. Their consumption represents a major source of vitamins and minerals in certain regions. Processed chili peppers are found in a variety of products including main dishes, meats, salad dressings, dairy products, beverages, candies, baked products, snack foods, salsas, hot sauces, and even in ice cream. Extracts are also used in pharmaceuticals, as medicinals, and in cosmetic products.
Bird peppers (such as the popular “Hawaiian” chili pepper in Hawai‘i) can be pickled when green or ripe and the ripe fruit is used in hot sauces or ground and used as a seasoning. “Chili pepper water,” which is consumed as a condiment in rice, eggs, fried foods, and cocktails, is among the most popular uses for bird peppers in Hawai‘i. Bird peppers may also be combined with other milder but flavorful chili pepper varieties to create a more nuanced flavor profile in dishes. Peppers are estimated to be grown on over 1.7 million hectares (ha) worldwide. Major producers of peppers include China, Turkey, Nigeria, and Mexico.
Chili peppers are suitable for planting in intercropping or agroforestry systems. They may be grown in alley cropping systems together with tree species such as Leucaena. In tropical regions chili peppers are also commonly interplanted with other vegetables or green manure crops. Competition for nutrients and light determine the performance and yield potential of chili peppers when grown in intercropping systems. An example of an agroforestry system used in soils with low fertility is the modified shifting-cultivation system used in parts of Indonesia. After growing a number of bamboo species for several years to build up the soil fertility and then clear-cutting, the open fields are planted with several intercrops including chili pepper, lab lab bean (Dolichos lablab), bitter melon (Momordica charantia), sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), and cassava (Manihot esculenta). Similar shifting or slash-and-burn systems are observed in southern Mexico, in which cash crops such chili peppers, corn, beans, and squash are grown for a period of 1–2 years after the fields are cleared of trees and vegetation.
Chili peppers are well adapted for production levels ranging from a few plants grown in a kitchen garden to small- to large-scale production. Because it is a labor-intensive crop, many small farmers may only be able to handle small plots. Some farmers may be able to grow unique or unusual cultivars for sale to local restaurants and hotels or for direct sale to consumers at local farmer’s markets.
Possible ways of processing chili peppers include dehydration via ovens or solar drying, the preparation of smoked chilies (such as the popular chipotles or smoked Jalapeno peppers from Mexico) or by pickling, roasting, and in salsa. The Serrano-type peppers are popular for salsa.
With some of the small hot chili types, the green fruit is used for pickling, while the ripened red fruit is dried for use as seasoning and often used in soup, stew, sausage, as well as in a host of Asian and Pacific dishes. When used as seasoning, peppers are usually dried and ground. To improve the flavor of some seasonings it is possible to combine the flavor of a hot or pungent chili pepper variety with a milder but more flavorful variety.
In Mexico, most snacks are spiced with chili flavors, including lollipops, tamarind snacks, chocolate pepper cookies, jellies, and potato chips.
Original source of this article
This article is excerpted by permission of the publisher from
Valenzuela, H. 2011. Chili Pepper (Capsicum annuum). In: Elevitch, C.R. (ed.). Specialty Crops for Pacific Island Agroforestry. Permanent Agriculture Resources (PAR), Holualoa, Hawai‘i. © Permanent Agriculture Resources