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Consumer interest in new flavours and health-related attributes has risen, leading food companies to seek out new crops and varieties to meet an emerging market for increasingly sophisticated palates and a more healthy food.  The search for the ‘hottest’ chilli peppers is one such emerging niche market.

The Andean Region of South America is the centre of origin for many traditional varieties of chilli pepper (Capsicum). Peru has the highest diversity of cultivated chilli peppers in the world, while Bolivia is the centre of origin for several cultivated and wild pepper varieties.

But while the differences in chilli varieties can be easily seen, smelled and tasted, little research has gone into mapping and studying the different traits and how this diversity of shapes, colours, flavours, pungency and health-related attributes could be linked to entrepreneurs, giving a much-needed income boost to the smallholder rural producers who grow and maintain them.

Bioversity International research approach

Bioversity International led a 3-year project to collect and screen traditional Capsicum varieties to determine traits with the potential to be commercially viable.  This research was carried out through the CGIAR Research Programs on Policies, Institutes and Markets, and on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.


Genetic level: We were able to detect 39 and 44 promising accessions in Peru and Bolivia respectively, conserved in genebanks, for a wide range of different purposes and uses. The collections in Peru and Bolivia provided the necessary diversity of selection. Peru now has one of the most diverse collections of native Capsicum ever assembled, representing a wide range of variation of the five cultivated peppers. The collection in Bolivia encompasses the five domesticated species and at least four wild taxa consumed by humans, including the recently discovered wild species C. caballeroi, which is unique to this collection.

Market level: Analysis done on national and international high value Capsicum niche markets, to identify opportunities and identify constraints, in terms of linking farmers to potential markets. From these analyses, steps were implemented, including facilitating access to promising seed material, training, publication of manuals and guides, and public awareness materials targeted at farmers, entrepreneurs and other value chain actors about the diversity of Capsicum and its potential uses.  Promising varieties were also distributed to farmers for testing while new native chilli products for market were developed through collaborations between farmer groups, private sector bodies and research institutions– such as bottled, canned, and dried good, as well as jams and as added spice to a specialty cheese.

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Chili diversity. Credit: Bioversity International/C. Zanzanaini

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Whether you like your chilli (Capsicum) peppers mildly spicy or ‘burn in the mouth’ hot, Peru and Bolivia have more than enough chilli varieties to...

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