The peter pepper, Capsicum annuum var. annuum, is an heirloom chili pepper that is best known for its unusual shape. It is a type of Capsicum annuum, though it is not officially recognized as a cultivar of the species. It occurs in red and yellow varieties. The pepper is considered very rare, and its origin is unknown.
The pepper is most commonly grown in East Texas and Louisiana, although it is grown in Mexico, as well. It was first popularized in the United States by Frank X. Tolbert in his Dallas Morning News column about obscure local history, although he saw the pepper only once in his life. It has since been studied by horticulture experts at the University of Texas at Austin and Louisiana State University. Though it is rare, its seeds are available from some private suppliers. It is adaptable to a variety of growing conditions. The seeds have also been exported to Asian countries, including South Korea.
The pepper has often been noted for its phallic appearance when fully grown. The pepper, particularly the red variety, has been described as a "miniature replica of the circumcised male organ". The pod of the pepper is wrinkled and has a round tip with a cleft. It is approximately 3 to 4 inches in length, and 1 to 1.5 inches wide when fully mature. The pod of the pepper has also been noted for its pungency.
As it has a very high Scoville rating, the pepper has been suggested for ornamental use rather than human consumption. It is sometimes pickled, though.
It was described by Frank X. Tolbert, a Texas journalist, historian, and chili enthusiast in one of his columns called "Tolbert's Texas" he wrote for the Dallas Morning News. Jean Andrews, in her book Peppers: the domesticated Capsicums, states the peter pepper did have all the qualifications "to be honored by the pen" of Mr. Tolbert, who wrote about "little-known facts about little-known things that occur in little-known places in Texas". Ms. Andrews described how hard it was to get the seed of this "little-known things that occur in little-known places" that she needed to study, but eventually she got the seeds, and was amused to see how "resulting pods naturally and consistently contorted themselves into a miniature replica of the circumcised male organ."
The unusual appearance of some chili peppers, and peter pepper in particular, causes amusement and provides the reasoning for a descriptive names, like penis pepper. Some kind of peppers are more predisposed to produce strange shapes. Jean Andrews, in her book "The Pepper Lady's Pocket Pepper Primer, explains, "A latent predisposition manifests itself more often when the plant is grown under unfavorable conditions." Humans use the seeds of individuals that have some special appeals to them: taste, shape, color, size, etc., to plant a new generation of the pepper. By repeating such selections over and over again, humans are able to make desired characteristics even more distinguished. Peter/Penis pepper is a product of such repeated selections.
There is a general belief that eating spicy food and chili pepper in particular heats up passion, but as Jon Bonné says in an article on MSNBC, "it's a big leap from heat in the mouth to heat between the sheets." The penile shape Bonné signals is confirmed by Michael Albertson and Ellen Albertson in their book Temptations: Igniting the Pleasure and Power of Aphrodisiacs: the pepper is what "he looks like....This very hot Latin lover likes to brag about his size and heat. (What man doesn't?)" Another name for peter pepper is "the Chilli Willy peppers". The uniquely shaped chilis have won a few awards, including the right to be called "The Most Pornographic Pepper" by Organic Gardening Magazine.
In Backwoods Home Magazine, Alice Brantley Yeager describes the process of growing peter peppers: "The best growing conditions involve a sunny spot in the garden, moderately rich soil and the same amount of water you’d give any other pepper plant when drought threatens." It is recommended to use a seed starter for a better result, but if a seed starter is not available, the seeds could be planted "in a plastic or clay pot in a sunny window".