History of Chilli

ORIGIN

There is some controversy about the origin of chillies/capsicums. There is even discrepancy about the botanical classification. Although some experts believe that various species came from Mexico, it is generally accepted that the ancestors of chillies originated in an area of Bolivia and spread through Central and South America in the early days. Evidence suggests that C. annuum originally occurred in northern Latin America and C. chinense in tropical northern Amazonia (Pickersgill 1971). Capsicum pubescens and C. baccatum appear to be more prevalent in lower South America. Thus, at the time of discovery, the former two species were exploited while the latter two species awaited a later discovery and remain largely unexploited outside South America today. It has been suggested that C. frutescens, in its primitive form, may be the ancestor of C. chinense (Eshbaugh et al. 1983).

HISTORY

Chili peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500 BC. There is archaeological evidence at sites located in a tropical lowland area of southwestern Ecuador that chili peppers were domesticated more than 6000 years ago, the chilli grains show that peppers were among the oldest domesticated foods in the hemisphere and is one of the first cultivated crops in the Central and South Americas. The team of scientists who made the discovery say the spice must have been transported over the Andes to what is now Ecuador as the chillies only grew naturally to the east of the mountain range. In Panama, chilies were used around 5,600 years ago. Chilies have also been found to have been used at a site occupied 4,000 years ago in the Peruvian Andes, In this case, the chilies were identified as the species C. pubescens. Newer sites in the Bahamas 1,000 years ago and in Venezuela 500 to 1000 years ago also yielded remains of the chilies

DISCOVERY

Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter Chillies on his first voyage in 1492to the Caribbean and named " red peppers" because of their colour and similarity in taste (though not in appearance) with the Old World peppers of the Piper genus.
Diego Álvarez Chanca, a physician on Columbus' second voyage to the West Indies in 1493, brought the first chilies to Spain, and first wrote about their medicinal qualities in 1494. In 1493, Peter Martyr (Anghiera 1493) wrote that Columbus brought home "pepper more pungent than that from the Caucasus."
Upon their introduction into Europe chillis were grown as botanical curiosities in the gardens of Spanish and Portuguese monasteries. It was the monks who first experimented with the chillis' culinary potential and discovered that their pungency offered a substitute for black peppercorns, which at the time were so costly that they were used as legal currency in some countries
Within 50 years of its discovery, the humble chilli pepper had spread across most of the then known world.

CHILE PEPPER MIGRATION

"Interestingly...it was not the Spanish who were responsible for the early diffusion of the chilli plant. It was the Portuguese who were aided by local traders following long-used trade routes, spreading the plants though the Old World with almost unbelievable rapidity...Unfortunately, documentation for the routes in which the chillli peppers followed from the Americas is not plentiful. The fiery new spice was readily accepted by the natives of Africa and India. Then from India, chilli peppers spread to not only along the Portuguese route back around Africa to Europe but also over ancient trade routes that led either to Europe via the Middle East or thru to Asia. if it wasn’t the Portuguese who had carried chilli peppers to Southeast Asia and Japan, the new spice would have been spread perhaps by Arabic, Gujurati, Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Javanese traders. In the Szechuan and Hunan provinces in China, foods from the Americas were known there by the middle of the sixteenth century, having reached these regions via caravan routes from the Ganges River through Burma and across western China..."

ABOUT PEPPERS IN EUROPE

Despite a European 'discovery' of the Americas, chilli peppers spread throughout Europe in circuitous fashion. Venice was the centre of the spice and Oriental trade of central Europe, from Venice the trade route went to Antwerp and the rest of Europe, although Antwerp also received Far Eastern goods from the Portuguese via India, Africa, and Lisbon. It was along these avenues that chili peppers travelled into much of Europe. They were in Italy by 1535, England before 1538, Germany by 1542, the Balkans before 1569 and Moravia by 1585...But except in the Balkans and Turkey, Europeans did not make much use of chilli peppers until the Napoleonic blockade cut off their supply of spices and they turned to Balkan paprika as a substitute. Prior to that, Europeans had mainly grown capsicums in containers as ornamentals.

ABOUT PEPPERS IN BRITAIN

A few new spices reached Britain after the end of the Middle Ages. The Spaniards brought back from Central America several members of the capsicum family, which were naturalized in southern Europe. The larger fruits were imported thence into England under the name of Guinea pepper. The smallest, reddest and hottest of the American capsicums, when dried and powdered, produced cayenne pepper, the 'chyan' of English eighteenth century recipe books. Its circuitous route caused it to be transferred to Britain from India in 1538...In 1597, the botanist John Gerard referred to cayenne as "ginnie or Indian pepper" in his herbal, and in his influential herbal of 1652, Nicholas Culpepper wrote that cayenne was "this violent fruit" that was of considerable service to "help digestion, provoke urine, relieve toothache, preserve the teeth from rottenness, comfort a cold stomach, expel the stone from the kidney, and take away dimness of sight." Cayenne appeared in Miller's The Gardener's and Botanist's Dictionary in 1768, proving it was being cultivated in England--at least in home gardens."

CHILE PEPPERS IN COLONIAL AMERICA

Chilli of the annuum species were transferred into what is now the American Southwest--first by birds and then by humankind. Botanists believe that the wild annum variety known as chiltepins spread northward from Mexico through dissemination by birds long before Native Americans domesticated peppers and made them part of their trade goods. These chiltepins still grow wild today in Arizona and in South Texas, where they are known as chilipiquins. According to most accounts, chilli peppers were introduced the second time into what is now known the United States by Calitan General Juan de Onate, who founded Santé Fe in 1609. However, they may have been introduced to the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico by the Antonio Espejo expedition of 1582-83. According to one of the members of the expedition..."They have no chilli, but the native were given some seed to plant." But by 1601, chillis were not on the list of Indian crops, according to colonist Francisco de Valverde..But soon chillis were being grown by Spanish and Indians alike.. We do know that soon after the Spanish arrived, the cultivation of peppers in New Mexico spread rapidly and the pods were grow both in Spanish settlements and native pueblos...During the 1700s, peppers were popping up in other parts of the country. In 1768, according to legend, Minorca settlers in St. Augustine, Florida, introduced the datil pepper, a land race of the Chinese species. Other introductions were also occurring during the eighteenth century. In 1785, George Washington planted two rows of "bird peppers" and one row of cayenne at Mount Vernon, but it is not known how he acquired the seed. Another influential American, Thomas Jefferson, was also growing peppers from seed imported from Mexico. By the early 1800s, commercial seed varieties became available to the American public. In 1806 a botanist named McMahon listed four varieties for sale, and in 1826, another botanist named Thornburn listed "Long' (cayenne), "Tomato-Shaped' (squash), 'Bell' (ox heart), 'Cherry' and 'Bird' (West Indian) peppers as available for gardeners

CHILLI PEPPERS IN ASIA

They were introduced to South Asia in the 1500s From Mexico, at the time the Spanish colony that controlled commerce with Asia, chili peppers spread rapidly into the Philippines and then to India, China, Indonesia, Korea and Japan. They were incorporated into the local cuisines.
An alternate account for the spread of chili peppers is that the Portuguese got the pepper from Spain, and cultivated it in India.[9] The chili pepper figures heavily in the cuisine of the Goan region of India, which was the site of a Portuguese colony. Chili peppers journeyed from India, through Central Asia and Turkey, to Hungary, where it became the national spice in the form of paprika.
from South Asia to China and Southeast Asia is not recorded in much detail, but it is assumed that local, Arab and European traders carried the chiles via traditional trading routes along the coasts and great waterways such as the Ganges

CHILLI PEPPER TRADE ROUTES

Map showing the routes by which chillies travelled from the Americas to Africa and Eurasia. The tale begins with Columbus' voyage of 1495 (green line), but the true spread of chillies occurred concurrent with the Portuguese voyages (red lines) from 1498 to 1549 as they traversed the globe from Africa through Arabia, India, the Spice Islands, China and Japan. Also shown (blue lines) are the ancient overland routes from India to China, the Spice route from Arabia to China and the trade route from Arabia to Central Europe.

REFERENCES
Perry, L. et al. 2007. Starch fossils and the domestication and dispersal of chili peppers (Capsicum spp. L.) in the Americas. Science 315: 986–988
BBC News Online. 2007. Chilies heated ancient cuisine. Friday, 16 February..
Cambridge World History of Food, Kenneth F. Kiple & Kriemhild Conee Ornelas [Cambridge University Press:Cambridge], Volume One, 2000 (p. 282).
The Chile Pepper Encyclopedia, Dave DeWitt [William Morrow:New York] 1999 (p. 13-4)
Food in Early Modern Europe, Ken Albala [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2003 (p. 32)
Food & Drink in Britain From the Stone Age to the 19th Century, C. Anne Wilson [Academy Chicago:Chicago] 1991 (p. 293)
The Chile Pepper Encyclopedia, Dave DeWitt [William Morrow:New York] 1999 (p. 68-69)

 

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