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Capsicum (capsicum annuum)
The general name for the variety of peppers, all native to Mexico and central America, stretching from sweet bell-peppers to the hottest chilis.
Seeds of peppers have been found in archaeological deposits in Tehuacan, in Mexico, dating from around 7000BC, but these may well have been fruits from the wild. The earliest records of the cultivation of peppers date from about 2000 years later, and peppers are illustrated on pre-Columbian ceramics. It is likely that the hot varieties, not the large sweet peppers, were the first to be cultivated. However, by the time peppers were introduced to Europe, most of the main types grown nowadays were already established.
The first records of peppers in Europe date from around AD1500, and they were soon widely grown. The hot varieties were dried and powdered then used as a substitute for true pepper, the tropical climber piper nigrum, then a very expensive import from the East Indies. Peppers soon became widely grown in Eastern Asia, and started to play a major part in the cooking of India, Malaysia and the southern parts of China.
Hot peppers, chilis, cayenne peppers:
According to their variety, certain types of capsicums become cayenne pepper, chilli powder or paprika when dried and ground. See "Capsicum; Allergies and":
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