There are many types of pepper. The word pepper can refer to many different plants, and among them many varieties of species, colors and ripeness. There are at least six types of pepper plants referred to as pepper, three peppercorns (black pepper, long pepper, and Sichuan pepper) and three nightshades (chili pepper, bell pepper and Hungarian pepper or Paprika). This article will cover the basics of these six types of peppers, each available as dried spices, and many available as fresh.
*Black (Tellicherry) Peppercorn — Piper nigrum L. (Piperaceae)
The dried, unripe fruit of a flowering vine, black pepper is the world’s most traded spice. Tellicherry peppercorns originated on the Malabar coast of India, however most pepper today is produced in Vietnam. Black pepper (and one type of white pepper which is black pepper with the outer shell removed through a process called retting) contains the alkaloid piperine, which forms crystals called monoclinic needles, along with chavicine (an isomer of piperine). Used in traditional medicine and as a natural insecticide, piperine was discovered in 1819. Different phases of black pepper yield different colors: red, white, green, black.
*Long (Pippali) Pepper — Piper longum (Piperaceae)
Native to java, Indonesia, long pepper (once one of the most popular spices in the world) was traded in Greece as early as 500 BC, and was mentioned by Hippocrates (father of medicine) as a medicine versus a spice. One of the most powerful Rasayana herbs and most used Ayvuvedic herbs, long peppers are the dried fruit (catkin) of a flowering vine. Ganthoa is the root of the long pepper. Long pepper has a flavor that tastes like a cross between black pepper and red pepper.
*Sichuan (Szechuan) Peppercorn — Zanthoxylum peperitem, simulans, bungeanum (Rutaceae)
Sichuan peppercorn in actually the seed of the prickly ash tree, and the spiciness is caused by a different type of chemical called hydroxy-alpha sanshool. Sichuan peppers contain flavonoids, terpene alkaloids, benzophenthridine alkaloids, pyranoquinoline alkaloids, quarternary isoquinoline alkaloids, aporphyrine alkaloids and several types of lignanes. The typical flavor of Sichuan peppers is due to essential oils which are as a rule mostly composed from terpenoids.
*Red (Chili) Pepper — Capsicum (Solanaceae)
Red (hot) pepper gets its spiciness from capsaicin, or methyl vanillyl nonenamine, a lipophilic chemical that produces pungency and spiciness. Pepper contains the antioxidant Capsaicin, an alkaloid that relieves allergies and reduces pain. Peppers increase metabolism. they also help treat ulcers, headaches and congestion while reducing cholesterol, blood clotting and strokes. Chili pepper is available in many formats for the spice rack, including red pepper flakes (the seeds of hot peppers), cayenne (hot, ground pepper, and Chipotle (ground, smoked, red ripe Jalapeno). These peppers also have antibiotic properties.
*Green (Bell) Pepper — Capsicum (Solanaceae)
Bell peppers are a variety of chili peppers that do not produce capsaicin and thus are not spicy. Green and red bell peppers (the unripe and ripe versions respectively) are sold in freeze dried form as a storable food. Peppers that are sun-ripened in full sunshine are sweeter, and green peppers (unripe bell peppers) are thus the least sweet.
*Paprika (Hungarian) Pepper — Capsicum annum (Solanaceae)
Paprika refers to ground, dried, typically sweet nightshade peppers. Originating in Budapest, Hungary in 1529, paprika was also popular in Spain around that time, where it was known as Pimenton. Paprika gets its rich color from the carotenoid santhophyll zeaxanthin. Paprika contains even more vitamin C than lemon juice. There are several grades of paprika varying from mild to hot, and sometimes being smoked with oak wood. Paprika has antioxidant properties.