Learning about Spices
What is a spice?
Why were spices important?
Sources of spices
Perfumes and Incenses 
Use of spices as aphrodisiacs
Use of spices as medicines
Culinary herbs
A spice timeline

Table of Spices
Allspice (Pimento)
Black Pepper
Chile Pepper
Coriander (Cilantro)
Frankincense and Myrrh
Nutmeg and Mace

Contacts and Acknowledgments
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Genus SpeciesCapsicum annuum
Origin Central and South America
Cultivated Hungary, Bulgaria, France, Spain, Italy, Israel, USA for US market; many other countries grows their own supply
Description Chile peppers or Capsicums, come in so many cultivated varieties (cultivars) that the shape, color, taste and pungency of any one species can vary considerably over time or according to the country from which it is obtained. Their pungency is caused by capsaicin and other capsaicinoids, which belong to the vanilloid family of chemicals. They are native to Central and South America (where they are called aji), and may have originated in Bolivia; currently, they are grown in many tropical countries as well as in the more temperate climates of the Southwest United States and in the Mediterranean area. In the U.S., as in many countries, they are often used for decoration. The name chile is said to be derived from a Nahuatl word, tchili, meaning red (whereas the name Chile, the country, is derived from a word meaning snow).

Chile peppers are broadly subdivided into variants of Capsicum annuum and C. frutescens. The main cultivars of C. annuum range from the non-pungent bell pepper and Hungarian paprika varieties to the very hot-tasting wild bird pepper or chiltepin. The latter is of interest in that it appeals to birds, who apparently do not experience the burning quality of the fruit, whereas all other animals (except, perhaps, rats) are repelled by this quality. The important cultivars of C. frutescens and its sub-varieties include the most pungent peppers, habañero and Scot’s Bonnet; the less fiery jalapeño, cayenne, Tabasco and many exotic cultivars; and the milder New Mexican (or Anaheim), Serrano, ancho (poblano) and pasilla. Chili, salsa, and other forms of prepared peppers and cayenne peppers are sold in a large variety of products of varying pungency. Ornamental peppers are popular because of their color and their ethnic attractiveness, and make pleasant decorative souvenirs of visits to exotic places, as are the colorful stringed ristras of dried New Mexico peppers. In California, increasing numbers of people are developing a taste for different types of chile peppers and flavors in condiments and spicy recipes, and even in candies. See a list of Major Pepper Spices. See a list of spices by Taste and Hotness.
Useful Parts The fruit of the plant contain all the heat and taste.
Medicinal PropertiesFresh or lightly cooked peppers are rich in Vitamin C; indeed this was first isolated in Hungary from bell pepper. However, these peppers are best known in medicine as sources of capsaicin which is used as an investigatory tool (since it stimulates liberation of Substance P, and is relied on as a cough inducing agent in laboratory studies) as well as a pain relieving medication for topical use in arthritis and neuropathies. Peppers which have pungency increase mucous secretion in the lungs and nose. The capsaicin of chile peppers is also used offensively in pepper sprays since it is very irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract. Most of the older medical uses (such as dyspepsia) are not regarded as valid medications, but chile pepper is still used in Ayurvedic therapy to treat peptic ulcers. Currently, capsaicin is used topically in proprietary creams to treat pain and neuropathies, whereas formerly chile-impregnated plasters and poultices were similarly used. The addition of chile pepper to chicken soup (with accompanying garlic and other herbs) is recommended as a useful therapy for colds, sinusitis and bronchitis.
See chemicals in spices.
Historical View “When taken internally, capsicum is a powerful stimulant producing when swallowed in small doses, a sensation of warmth in the stomach, and a general glow over the whole body; hence in moderation it is very useful as a condiment, for which both it and cayenne pepper are very extensively employed, and more especially in tropical countries where vegetable food is chiefly consumed. Taken in this way, it promotes digestion, and prevents flatulence. It is also sometimes give medicinally, as a general stimulant, in atonic dyspepsia, in diarrhea arising from putrid or undigested matter in the stomach, in extreme prostration, in poisoning by opium, in paralytic affections, and in delirium tremens, in which disease when taken early it is said sometimes to produce sleep.”

Bentley, Robert and Henry Trimen. Medicinal Plants; being descriptions with original figures of the principal plants employed in medicine and an account of the characters, properties, and uses of their parts and products of medicinal value. London, Churchill, 1880. (WZ 295 B556m 1880)
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Spice Exhibit URL: http://unitproj.library.ucla.edu/biomed/spice/index.cfm

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