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Capsicum chinense

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Capsicum chinense
Habanero fruits
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Solanales
Family: Solanaceae
Genus: Capsicum
C. chinense
Binomial name
Capsicum chinense
  • Capsicum sinense Murray
  • Capsicum toxicarium Poepp. ex Fingerh.

Capsicum chinense, commonly known as a "habanero-type pepper", is a species of chili pepper native to the Americas. C. chinense varieties are well known for their unique flavors and, in many cases, exceptional heat. The hottest peppers in the world are members of this species, with a Scoville Heat Unit score of 2.69 million measured in the C. chinense cultivar, Pepper X in 2023.[2]

Some taxonomists consider C. chinense to be within the species C. annuum, and they are a member of the C. annuum complex;[3][4] however, C. chinense and C. annuum pepper plants can sometimes be distinguished by the number of flowers or fruit per node – two to five for C. chinense and one for C. annuum – though this method is not always accurate.[5] The two species can also hybridize and generate inter-specific hybrids. C. frutescens may be the ancestor to the C. chinense species.[6]



The scientific species name C. chinense or C. sinensis ("Chinese capsicum") is a misnomer. All Capsicum species originated in the New World.[7] Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin (1727–1817), a Dutch botanist, erroneously named the species in 1776, because he believed it originated in China due to their prevalence in Chinese cuisine; it however was later found to be introduced by earlier European explorers.[8]

Plant appearance


Within C. chinense, the appearance and characteristics of the plants can vary greatly. Varieties such as the well-known Habanero grow to form small, compact perennial bushes about 0.5 metres (1 ft 8 in) in height. The flowers, as with most Capsicum species, are small and white with five petals. When it forms, the fruit varies greatly in color and shape,[9] with red, orange, and yellow being the most common mature colors, but colors such as brown and purple are also known.[10] Another similarity with other species would be shallow roots, which are very common.


Close-up photograph of a typical C. chinense flower ('Madame Jeanette' variety)

The origin of C. chinense is not an easy matter to settle. However, several reports by McLeod, Pickersgill, and Eshbaugh put its center of origin in the tropical northern Amazon, ranging from Southern Brazil to Bolivia (Eshbaugh, W.H.1993. History and Exploitation of a serendipitous new crop discovery. p. 132-139. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds), New Crops. Wiley, New York). Later on, it migrated to the Caribbean basin and Cuba originating the term Habanero, meaning from Habana (Havana, Cuba), where several peppers of this species were exported out from this port. (Despite the name, habaneros and other spicy-hot ingredients are rarely ever used in traditional Cuban cooking.)[11][12]

In warm climates such as these, it is a perennial and can last for several years, but in cooler climates, C. chinense does not usually survive the winter. It will readily germinate from the previous year's seed in the following growing season, however.[13]

Domestication, cultivation and agriculture


Seeds of C. chinense have been found in cave dwellings in Central America that indicate the natives have been consuming peppers since 7,000 B.C. In Eastern Mexico, dry pepper fruits and seeds have been recovered from 9,000 years old burials in Tamaulipas and Tehuacán, further indicating their use since 7,000 B.C.[13] Domestication might have taken place 10,000 to 12,000 years ago in Central–East Mexico.[14]

C. chinense peppers have been cultivated for thousands of years in their native regions, but have only been available in areas outside of the Americas for about 400–500 years following the Columbian Exchange.[14] Selection in the new environments have led to the rise of new varieties that are bred and farmed in Asia and Africa.

C. chinense are also popular with many gardeners for their bright colors (ornamental value) and for their fruit.

Culinary use


C. chinense and its varieties have been used for millennia in Yucatán and Caribbean-style cooking to add a significant amount of heat to their traditional food.[15] They are mainly used in stews and sauces, as well as marinades for meats and chicken.

American food at times also uses some of these chiles. For example, Habanero (a group of C. chinense varieties) are commonly used in hot sauces and extra-spicy salsas, due to the popularity of Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisines in American culture.[16]

Common C. chinense varieties




C. chinense has many different varieties, including:

Hybrids and landraces



  1. ^ "Capsicum chinense Jacq". The Plant List.
  2. ^ Sanj Atwal (16 October 2023). "Pepper X dethrones Carolina Reaper as world's hottest chilli pepper". Guinness World Records Ltd. Retrieved 16 October 2023.
  3. ^ "Capsicum chinense". Tropicos.
  4. ^ Eshbaugh, W.H (1993). "History and exploitation of a serendipitous new crop discovery". In Janick, J; Simon, J.E (eds.). New crops. New York: Wiley. pp. 132–39.
  5. ^ Tanksley, Steven D; Iglesias-Olivas, Jaime (Nov 1984), "Inheritance and transfer of multiple-flower character from Capsicum chinense into Capsicum annuum", Euphytica, 33 (3): 769–77, doi:10.1007/bf00021903, S2CID 42784000.
  6. ^ Russo, Vincent M. (2012). Peppers: Botany, Production and Uses. Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International. p. 17. ISBN 9781845937676. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  7. ^ Andrews, Jean (1995). "Historical Background". Peppers: the Domesticated Capsicums. Austin, TX, USA: University of Texas Press. pp. 1–10.
  8. ^ a b Bosland, P.W (1996), "Capsicums: Innovative uses of an ancient crop", in Janick, J (ed.), Progress in new crops, Arlington, VA: ASHS Press, pp. 479–87.
  9. ^ "Chinense Species". Capsicum Species. The Chilli Man. Archived from the original on 23 February 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2011.
  10. ^ Smith, P. G (1950-05-01). "Inheritance of brown and green mature fruit color in peppers". The Journal of Heredity. 41 (5): 138–40. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.jhered.a106109. ISSN 0022-1503. PMID 15436970.
  11. ^ "Cuba and Food – An Intense History". July 2020. Retrieved March 7, 2021.
  12. ^ McGinty, Lupi (17 June 2016). "Cuban Food Isn't Spicy". Medium. Retrieved March 7, 2021.
  13. ^ a b "Peppers". Plant sciences. UC Davis. Archived from the original on 2016-01-22. Retrieved 2016-02-02.
  14. ^ a b "Chili Peppers First Cultivated in Mexico". Gary Nabhan. Archived from the original on 2014-09-08. Retrieved 2016-02-02.
  15. ^ Webster, Valerie. "Habanero Hot Sauce – Cure for Common Cuisine". Recipes. Caribbean Choice. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
  16. ^ "Mexican American culture". Kwintessential Publications. UK. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
  17. ^ "SACEP" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2022-10-05. Retrieved 2022-10-05.