The present manifestation of any plant is the product of years of evolution from simpler organisms, in the form of biotic and abiotic changes, in response to environmental transformations. Capsicum peppers are under heavy demand in international and national markets, are eaten fresh or dried, or processed into a variety of end products. Hot peppers are popular food additives, valued for their color, pungency, and aroma (Bosland, 1992). In Mexico, hot peppers constitute both part of national traditions and cultural identity.
In recent years, the habanero pepper (Capsicum chinense Jacq.) has become increasingly important as a result of its wide diversity and its high fruit pungency, which make it very desirable in many countries. Pungency in habanero pepper fruit depends on environmental factors, including soil type, osmotic properties, and nutrient components; the latter is the least studied (Soria-Fregoso et al., 2002). Phenotypic expression of pungency is therefore produced by a genotype × environment interaction (Harvell and Bosland, 1997). Pungency results from the presence of capsaicinoids, which are vanillylamine acid amides and C9 to C11 branched chain fatty acids; capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin account for ≈80% of all capsaicinoids in peppers (Bernal et al., 1993). During fruit ripening in habanero pepper, capsaicin concentration progressively increases, reaching a maximum 45 to 50 d after fruit set (Contreras Padilla and Yahia, 1998). Capsaicin then reverts and degrades to other secondary products.
The same agricultural practices are often used for sweet and hot pepper species, although these crops differ in growth, habit, and fruiting characteristics. Little is currently known about the effect of soil nutrients on pepper fruit pungency and very few measurements have been taken in commercial pepper fields. Reports have documented N and K effects on sweet pepper (Jaworski et al., 1978) and hot pepper (Johnson and Decoteau, 1996). No published data exist, however, for C. chinense Jacq, although for maximum yields, the recommended N level, in cultivated soils, is 125 kg·ha−1 and that for K is 150 kg·ha−1 (Soria-Fregoso et al., 2002), but today, it is very important to emphasize that there are no data in habanero pepper that indicate an adequately fertilized protocol.
Fruit yield and quality depend on fertilization among other agricultural inputs (Epstein and Bloom, 2005; Raese and Drake, 1997). Even at low levels, fertilization often enhances yields dramatically, although excessive fertilizer application can negatively affect crop nutrient efficiency and produce diminishing financial returns (Epstein and Bloom, 2005). The fertilization regime also affects the concentrations of many secondary metabolites such as alkaloids (e.g., capsaicin), phenols, and others (Bryant et al., 1987; Gerson and Kelsey 1999; Gremigni et al., 2003; Kainulainen et al., 1995).
Habanero pepper is an extremely important crop in Yucatan State, Mexico, but no data have been gathered on its responses to N and K fertilization, particularly how it may influence fruit development and quality. In response, the present study aim was to analyze if addition of N or K increases fruit capsaicin levels or affects fruiting in habanero pepper under greenhouse conditions.
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