Bell pepper or sweet pepper is a cultivar group of the species Capsicum annuum (chili pepper). Cultivars of the plant produce fruits in different colors, including red, yellow and orange. The fruit is also frequently consumed in its unripe form, when the fruit is still green. Bell peppers are sometimes grouped with less pungent pepper varieties as "sweet peppers". Peppers are native to Mexico, Central America and northern South America. Pepper seeds were later carried to Spain in 1493 and from there spread to other European, African and Asian countries. Today, Mexico remains one of the major pepper producers in the world.
The misleading name "pepper" (pimiento in Spanish) was given by Christopher Columbus upon bringing the plant back to Europe. At that time peppercorns, the fruit of Piper nigrum, an unrelated plant originating from India, were a highly prized condiment; the name "pepper" was at that time applied in Europe to all known spices with a hot and pungent taste and so naturally extended to the newly discovered Capsicum genus. The most commonly used alternative name of the plant family, "chili", is of Central American origin. Bell peppers are botanically fruits, but are generally considered in culinary contexts to be vegetables. When cut off, the top of the bell pepper is referred to as a "pepper pan".
While the bell pepper is a member of the Capsicum genus, it is the only Capsicum that does not produce capsaicin, a lipophilic chemical that can cause a strong burning sensation when it comes in contact with mucous membranes. The lack of capsaicin in bell peppers is due to a recessive form of a gene that eliminates capsaicin and, consequently, the "hot" taste usually associated with the rest of the Capsicum genus.
The term "bell pepper" or "pepper" or "capsicum" is often used for any of the large bell shaped capsicum fruits, regardless of their color. In British English, the fruit is simply referred to as a "pepper", or additionally by colour (as in the term "green pepper", for example), whereas in many Commonwealth of Nations countries, such as Australia, India, Malaysia and New Zealand, they are called "capsicum". Across Europe, the term "paprika", which has its roots in the word for pepper, is used—sometimes referred to by their color (e.g., "groene paprika", "gele paprika", in Dutch, which are green and yellow, respectively). Paprika also refers to the powdered spice made from the fruits in the capsicum genus. In France it is called "poivron", with the same root as "poivre" (meaning "pepper"), or "piment". In Japan, the word "piman" (from the French) refers only to green bell peppers, whereas "papurika" (from paprika) refers to bell peppers of other colors.