Andrew’s Essential Fiery Food Facts that a Pyro-Gourmaniac needs to Know
Part 16


The origins of Chilli have ancient roots thousands of years old, beginning in South America. Studies by botanists have not yet found the exact location, but believe that the first chillies originated in an area bounded by the mountains of Bolivia and Brazil.
Over thousands of years, the chilli spread out from this area probably with the help of birds and indigenous people, spreading throughout South and Central America. Originally, Wild Chillies had a small fruit, red and round, very attractive to birds but with little substance for man. Bird Archaeobotanists from finds analysis and study of the starch granules, believe they have found what is believed to be the beginning of a prehistoric vintage dated to about 8,000 years ago, followed by cultivation and domestication end to about 6,000 years ago. The spread of domestic cultivation was determined by both the taste and culinary value but also by the search for calories in fruit larger than the wild versions. The Chillies of South America were already known and used in 7500 BC.
Whereas its arrival in Europe came around 1496, following the second voyage of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. The ship’s doctor, Diego Álvarez Chanca of Seville, observed that the natives added them to many dishes. Columbus and his ship’s doctor discovered what would become the spice most cultivated in the world. In this era the Indigenous people lived in different civilizations and cultures, and although many were already ended at the time of the arrival of Europeans, others were still alive. Of the largest and most advanced we were, Aztecs, Toltecs, Maya, Chibcha, and Inca.
These civilizations were developed in previous centuries of the Pre Columbian era practised bloody human sacrifices to the gods, but also excelled on astronomy, craftsmanship, the building of temples and religious monuments sites and especially in agriculture. Thanks to the pre-Columbian civilizations , Columbus could import animals in Europe and especially plants at the time were unknown. Cocoa, Corn, Potato, Tomato and Pumpkin, were just a few of the multitude of plants that the Americas offered. Among them was also the Chilli, called ”Uchu” by the Incas, ”Pimiento de las Indias” by the Spanish, and later ”Aji” by the people of the West Indies, a name which has now become quite common in the Andes.
Mexico and Central America are thought to be the centre of origin of Capsicum annuum and Capsicum frutescens while South America Capsicum chinense, Capsicum baccatum and Capsicum pubescens. The associations of wheat starch show that Corn and Chillies have evolved together as an ancient and widespread Neotropical plant food before the ceramic in some regions.
With the domestication and cultivation systematic, Chillies entered in the culture of pre-Columbian civilizations. Revered as a deity, the Incas considered them one of the four brothers of their creation myth, ”Ayar-Uchu” or ”Brother Chilli” and considered him to be the brother of the first Inca king. Garcilaso de la Vega said that Chillies were perceived to symbolize the teachings of the early brethren Inca. They were therefore considered as sacred plants and more rigorous fasts were those that prohibited the use of all the Chilli.
Many of the documents and reports of Columbus were lost while traveling and so today our culinary knowledge on the use of the Chilli comes from pre-Columbian archaeological finds, from Spanish and Portuguese explorers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the missionary fathers.
However the expectations by the Kingdom of Spain for the market of this new spice was disappointing because the Chilli was well acclimated in the continent allowing cultivation even by the poorer population that could not afford to buy expensive oriental spices. After the discovery of the Americas in 1492, Columbus made his first pilgrimage to the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe, in Extremadura, Spain, to thank his discovery. It is assumed that he donated Chilli seeds to the monks, these were the first Europeans to discover the taste of spicy Chillies and add them to their kitchen. Initially cultivated in monasteries, the seeds were then spread throughout Spain and Europe by traveller monks.
Because of the expansion of the Venetian Republic, the boundaries of which extended to Cyprus and the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean. On May 20, 1498 the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was allowed to be able to do business with the Arab traders, Persian, Turkish and Venetian, rounding the Cape of Good Hope and landing at Kolkata in India where He established the first Portuguese trading colony in Goa. Soon after trading colonies helped the spread of the Asian chilli as far away as Timor.
In 1542, Portuguese missionaries brought the Chilli to Japan and then later to Korea. From India, through the Persians and the Turks the Chilli was introduced to Hungary in 1570. Mill in Szeged in 1910 was the first to grow Chillies in the gardens. They soon took there place among the most important ingredients in the kitchen. No one knows how many and which species were crossed and selected sweet peppers were introduced into Europe by the Hungarians, but for the first time the name Paprika was recorded in 1724. Today the Chilli is known and cultivated in most parts of the world and in numerous cultures across the Globe became part of their traditions.
Chili seeds were brought to North America for cultivation. In 1888, experiments began for cross breeding of chili plants. New breeds of chili plants were evolved. In 1906, a new variety of Chilli, the Anaheim, was grown. Soon, more chilli varieties were evolved such as strong breeds of Mexican chillies.

In 1912, Wilbur L. Scoville, a pharmacist found a new method to measure the pungency of the chili. This new method came to be known as Scoville Organoleptic Test. Unlike, earlier methods, the Scoville test was subjective and accurate.
There are more than 400 different varieties of chilies found all over the world. One of the world’s hottest chili “Naga Jolokia” is cultivated in hilly terrain of Assam in a small town Tezpur, India. Chilli became extremely popular in India after it was first brought to India by Vasco-da-Gama. Chilli found its way in ayurveda, the traditional Indian medical system. According to ayurveda, Chilli has many medicinal properties such as stimulating good digestion and endorphins, a natural pain killer to relieve pains.
Today, it is unimaginable to think of Indian cuisine without hot spices and Chillies. India has become world’s largest producer and exporter of Chili, exporting to USA, Canada, UK, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Malaysia, Germany and many countries across the world. It contributes 25% of world’s total production of Chilli. Some of the hottest Chillies are grown in India. Indian Chillies have been dominating the international Chilli market. The majority of the chillies grown in India are cultivated in the states such of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Orissa.




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