Introduction

Tropical South America is believed to be the original home of Capsicum, where the different varieties were known by different names in regional dialects, one of them being "chilli". They were introduced into Spain in the fifteenth century by Columbus who named it red pepper. Capsicum is believed to have been introduced into India by the Portugese. The different species of Capsicum which were established in India, China and South Asia are the long and thin varieties of moderate pungency which are locally called "chillies". The highly pungent varieties having small fruits also called chillies (bird chillies) are more common in Africa. The highly coloured, mildly pungent to sweet varieties known as "paprika" were developed in Europe.

Chillies, red peppers, sweet peppers, cayenne, paprika and most other cultivated varieties of varying pungency belong to the species Capsicum annuum. A few chilli varieties, such as bird chillies (African chillies) and tabasco chillies, are classified under C. frutescens. However, five major cultivated species of the genus Capsicum namely, C. annuum, C. baccatum, C. frutescens, C. chinense and C. pubescens, have been recognized the world over. Regardless of the term Capsicum used by taxonomists, the scientific literature in different countries have used different terms to describe the type of chillies!Capsicums. This practice has lead to considerable ambiguity. The term "chilli" is used in India, the UK, Africa and the countries in the East, but not generally in the US. The British Standard Specifications differentiate between chilli and Capsicum based on the degree of pungency. The International Standard Organization, however, recognizes only two types namely,

"chillies" and "paprika". These types cover the easily perceptible to strongly pungent types and the big fleshy vegetable, and the sweet or just recognizable pungency type of Capsicums, respectively. Commercially, chillies with moderate pungency are grown in tropical countries like India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Malaysia, Turkey and Japan; high pungency varieties are grown in Africa and paprika with milder pungency is grown in European countries like Hungary, Spain, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland.

Capsicum annuum is the most important among the species grown all over the world. India is the largest producer of chillies (dry) in the world with an estimated annual production of 1.066 million tonnes during 1996-97 (Annual report, Spices Board 1998-99). Chillies, both fresh and dried, are used as condiments and culinary supplements for their pungency and characteristic pleasant flavour. Bell pepper (C. annuum var. grossum) is used in stews, salads, pizza, meat loaf and also as a vegetable and culinary supplement. Bell pepper is also known by different names, such as green pepper, sweet pepper and in India as Simla mirch.

Over the years, ripe chillies and paprika have become very important raw materials for processing into a variety of products like chilli powder, curry powder, chilli oleoresin and chilli colour. They are also used to a limited extent for canned, frozen, pickled and fermented (e.g. Kochujang) products. Due to their importance in world trade, various developments have taken place in crop improvement, storage conditions, processing technologies as well as the packaging and storage of Capsicums. The large volumes of scientific information generated in the recent years on the beneficial pharmacological properties of capsaicinoids (Govindarajan and Sathyanarayana, 1991) have further boosted the commercial importance of Capsicums.

This chapter looks into some of the post-harvest technological aspects of this important spice and attempts to shed light onto the future prospects of processing them for value addition.

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