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become an even bigger spice than the black one the Admiral had been looking for. Chili powder, cayenne, Tabasco, pimientos, and paprika all derive from peppers. Today, one can hardly imagine what many national diets must have been like without them. The foods of India, Hunan and Szechuan (China), Thailand, Indonesia, Ethiopia, West Africa, and others became synonymous with highly spiced foods. And Hungary and Spain became known for paprika and pimientos.

These developments are most often based on one species, Capsicum annuum. Two others, C. frutescens and C. chinense, 2 are also used in a few tropical areas. But in the Andes, the probable homeland of peppers, there remain other promising species that have scarcely spread outside the region. These are grown mainly in rural home gardens, but several are still wild plants. Examples of both cultivated and wild types are highlighted below.


Rocoto. 3 The rocoto (Capsicum pubescens) is widely cultivated in the high Andes. Its purple and white flowers, fuzzy leaves, and black, wrinkled seeds make it easy to recognize. It produces fruits sometimes almost as large as bell peppers, but instead of being mild in flavor, they are pungent like hot chiles. When ripe, these beautiful, thick-fleshed fruits are brilliantly colored—shiny red, orange, yellow, or brown—and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are often eaten stuffed with meat.

The plant is the most cold tolerant of the cultivated peppers. It grows at higher altitudes than other species, generally from 1,500 to 2,900 m, but cannot tolerate the heat of the lowland tropics. It is a perennial that grows for 10 or more years and is sometimes called the “tree chile.”

The Incas prized rocoto for its special flavor, and 450 years later it is still mainly confined to the Andean area formerly occupied by the Incas. However, it is also cultivated a little in the highlands of Costa Rica (particularly for producing yellow food coloring), Guatemala (where it is called “siete caldos”), and southern Mexico (where it is known as “apple chile” or “horse chile”). It is virtually unknown

2Capsicum taxonomy is not clear-cut; these two species may be one and the same. Their best-known use in North America is as the prime ingredient of Tabasco Sauce.
3 The name “rocoto” (also spelled rokkoto) is used in Peru, Chile, and Ecuador; locoto (or lokoto) is used in Peru (Puno) and Bolivia. Other names are “chile manzano” (Mexico) and “panameño” (Costa Rica).

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