Colourful capsicums, sweet and peppery versatility

The squarish California pepper is grown most in Andalucía.
The squarish California pepper is grown most in Andalucía. / SUR
  • Peppers were brought back from the Americas by Christopher Columbus and there are now around 130 varieties available commercially

Peppers are the fruit of the Capsicum genus, part of the Solanaceae family of plants.

They originate from Mexico, Bolivia and Peru and were first introduced to Europe after Christopher Columbus returned from his first trip to the Americas in 1493.

The indigenous Americans called the fruit 'chili' but the Spanish and the Portuguese called them 'pimiento' and 'pimenta do Brasil'.

They were first cultivated in Spain in the 16th century. In Andalucía production is concentrated in Almería with 664,000 tonnes grown between 2015 and 2016. Malaga produces around 20,000 tonnes.

The varieties of peppers consumed today are classified into two main groups according to their sweetness or hotness.

Some companies are dedicated to researching and developing new varieties to add to the catalogue of around 130 commercially-grown types of peppers which includes different colours and flavours.

At the moment the new trend is the super-sweet, snack peppers which come in up to seven different colours, the purple pepper being one of the most striking.

Peppers are rich in fibre, antioxidants and vitamin C.

Eating them benefits the skin, alleviates cold symptoms, relieves constipation and helps to stabilise an over-active thyroid.

In Andalucía almost 75 per cent of capsicums grown are the California pepper which has a squarish profile and is bright green, turning red and other colours (usually yellow and, to a lesser extent, orange) as it ripens.

Catching up is the Italian pepper, which has a long conical shape and turns from green to red when mature.

The small ones are used as 'snack peppers' and are sweet and crunchy.

The Lamuyo pepper is a rectangular shape or truncated cone. According to the variety, when ripe it turns red or yellow.

They are the most cultivated in the Andalusian countryside, only behind the California.

Finally, there is a varied group of peppers like 'padrón' (originating from Padrón in A Coruña, Galicia), they are small and elongated and slightly rough or furrowed.

They are consumed green, usually fried, and some are rather hot while others are quite sweet.