Originally from central South America, Capsicum annuuum is a plant that grows in temperate to hot climates. There are 85 varieties of this species of spicy chili that in Italy goes by peperoncino – an ingredient that gives spice to dishes throughout the world. Peperoncino was among the various wonders of the New World brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus. In the Americas, it held great value as a bartering tool in the spice markets.
The best peperoncino in Italy can be found in Calabria and Basilicata. The different types of peperoncino can be distinguished based on their level of sweetness. The heat or spice of the peperoncino comes from capsaicin, a substance present in the peppers in large quantities with regards to their small size. Even if their flavor is spicy, it is unmistakable. Peperoncino is referred to by different regional names throughout Italy.
In Calabria, for example, it is often called diavulillo or pipazzu; in Basilicata it is diavulicchiu; in Campania, peparuolo; in L’Aquilia, pepentò; and pipi russi in Sicily. Peperoncino is used in the rustic cooking of southern Italy, where it gives a kick to simple preparations of pasta, vegetables and fish. It can also be eaten fresh, sprinkled over food, or preserved in oil, dries or ground into a powder. It is often used to spice salumi, including Nduja - a specialty of Calabria.
In addition to is culinary uses, peperoncino is known to aide digestion and vasodilation.