Chili, chilli, or chile? Capsicum?

I was writing a note to a colleague today and got a little red squiggly under the word chili (as in the spicy fruit of the capsicum family), which has always been one of those words I’m not 100% sure of.  I knew you could spell it chili, chilli, or chile, but I wasn’t entirely sure about the definite rules.  So, I thought I’d do a little digging (online, of course).

So which is correct?  It turns out that: they all are.  It just depends where you are using the word.

In North America, both chili and chile are used, the latter being used just to talk about the vegetable (or fruit, actually), and the former used to mean the fruit, the powder, and also a couple of dishes (chili con carne being the most popular).  They are also called chili/chile peppers.  Chile is the common spelling in Mexico (not to be confused with Chile the country).  The bigger, unspicy variety (that Kiwis and Aussies usually call capsicum) are often referred to as bell peppers, sweet peppers, or green/red/yellow peppers (obviously depending on the colour).

In the UK, chilli is the preferred spelling, and chilli pepper is quite common.  Bell peppers are called green/red/yellow peppers as well.

In New Zealand and Australia, we tend to use chilli/chilli pepper, and green/red/yellow capsicum.  Most people mean the green variety if capsicum is used on its own.

There are arguments for and against a few of these terms (e.g. chili by itself can be confused with chili con carne, but pepper is not an appropriate word to use for the Capsicum family), but as long as you’re sure your audience knows what you’re talking about, feel free to use any of these terms.  To help clarify matters, you could always use a more specific name (e.g. jalapeño or bird’s eye).

Which terms do you use?

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