The History of the Chilli Pepper

The capsicum (Chilli Pepper) plant is indigenous to South America, where they grow wild. The very first concerted cultivation of the plant is believed to have taken place around 7000 to 6000 BC and traces have been found at prehistoric burial sites around Peru. By the turn of the 15th century, when the Spanish and Portuguese discovered South America, chilli peppers were widely cultivated for human consumption. Aren’t we all glad that they did?

The Spaniards found that drying and crushing the pods of the hottest chilli peppers, made an excellent fiery substitute for the peppercorn that was so extensively used in European cuisine. They named their fantastic discovery “pimienta” (which is the Spanish word for pepper), or “pimienta chilli” (as the Mexicans referred to them) so as to distinguish them from peppercorns. Soon enough, tons of chillis were being shipped back to Spain each year, much to the delight of the Spanish population.

The Portuguese went one step further and created a website called “The Great Chilli Farm and” ………(Just kidding). The Portuguese shipped mature chilli pepper plants to their settlements in the East Indies and upon arrival, the new plant was re-christened Pernombuco pepper. Being a lot easier to grow and a great deal hotter than the peppercorn, it soon became the more popular of the two. Because the chilli pepper is now used as much in Eastern cuisine as it is in South American cuisine, it is often thought to have originated in the East rather than in the West. There’s enough fighting going on in the world, so try not to bring up the subject in polite conversation. Just keep this information in the back of your mind in case you are ever a contestant on the quiz show, “The weakest link”.

As the climate of southern Europe was ideal for growing chilli peppers, is wasn’t too long before the fruit was available in most European market places. The powder ground from the dried fruits was being sold in all the major cities of Europe as it kept well and was very easy to transport.

Powdered chilli pepper, appeared in many of the 18th century recipes, but the real enthusiasts, were among the Victorians who loved the new Indian dishes, popularized during the height of the British Empire in India. It wasn’t long before companies such as Lazenbys, Harveys, and Crosse & Blackwell, manufactured hot pepper sauces to grace the Victorian dinner tables. During the 20th century, powdered chilli pepper was used mainly in the preparation of national and ethnic dishes from South America to North America to India to Africa to China and Southeast Asia. Who can honestly say that they don’t enjoy eating a great Madras lamb-on-the-bone, or a Thai green chicken curry or the world famous Singapore Chilli crab or South Africa’s Cape Malay Baboti? I know I do!!

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