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Capsicum chinense (syn. Capsicum sinense), commonly known as “Yellow Lantern Chili”,[1] is a species of chili pepper native to the Americas. C. chinense chillies are well known for their exceptional heat.


Despite its name, Capsicum chinense or “Chinese capsicum” is misleading. All Capsicums originate in the New World. Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin (1727–1817), a Dutch botanist, erroneously named the species in 1776, because he believed that they originated in China.[2]

Plant appearance

Within C. chinense, the appearance and characteristics of the plants can vary greatly. Varieties such as the well-known habaneros grow to form a small, compact perennial bush approximately 0.5 metres in height. The flowers, as with most Capsicums, are small and white with five petals. When it forms, the fruit varies greatly in colour and shap[3] with red, orange, and yellow being the most common final colours, but ones such as brown also being known. Some varieties, such as C. chinense “Trinidad Scorpion”, form far taller bushes (up to two metres high), with very large fruit yields offset only by the very long 80–120 day ripening time[4] for such fruits. Another similarity with other chilli species would be shallow roots, which are very common in chillies.


C. chinense is native to Central America, the Yucatan region, and the Caribbean islands. In warm climates such as these it behaves as a perennial and can last for several years, but in cooler climates C. chinense does not usually survive the winter. However, it will readily germinate from the previous year’s seed in the following growing season.

Cultivation and agriculture

C. chinense peppers have been cultivated for hundreds of years in their native regions and have only recently been introduced to areas of Asia, where they are also farmed. They are popular with many gardeners for their bright colours (ornamental value) and for their fruit in vegetable gardens.

Culinary use

C. chinense and its varieties have been used for centuries in Yucatan and Caribbean-style cooking to add a significant amount of heat to their traditional food.[5] The chillies are mainly used in stews and sauces, as well as marinade for joints of meat, usually chicken. The peppers for these dishes are almost always grown/sourced locally, as there are many people in the native regions that grow chillies.

Western food at times also calls for some of these chillies. For example, Habaneros (a group of C. chinense varieties) are commonly used in hot sauces and extra-spicy salsas, due to the popularity of Mexican food in Western culture.[6] The peppers are also commonly used to add moderate heat to very large quantities of soup and stew in restaurants, in an effort to cut costs (1 hot chilli counts for several mild ones).

Common C. chinense varieties

Just like C. annuum, C. chinense has many different varieties. These include:

  • 7-Pot (Trinidad)
  • Adjuma (Suriname)
  • Ají Panca (Peru)
  • Arriba Saia (Brazil)
  • Datil (Florida)
  • Fatalii (South central Africa)
  • Habanero chile (Caribbean, Central America and Mexico)
    • Habanero cultivar Red Savina pepper
  • Hainan Yellow Lantern Chili (Hainan Island, South China)
  • Madame Jeanette (Suriname)
  • Naga Jolokia pepper (Assam)
    • Naga Jolokia cultivar Dorset Naga pepper
  • Scotch bonnet (Jamaica)
  • Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper (Trinidad)
  • Umbigo de Tainha (Brazil)
  • Wiri Wiri (Suriname)
Written on February 29th, 2012 , Botany, Vegetables Tags:

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