A Bit of Chile History
To elaborate on the nomenclature, CHILE refers to the pepper plant or pod. CHILI refers to the traditional
dish of meat, beans and chiles Texans are famous for. The true origin of the word dates back to the 15th century where the Nahuatl Indians of southern Mexico and Central America dubbed the plant and pods CHILLI. CHILLE is still used an many parts of the world today to refer to what we know as CHILE. The country of CHILE was not name for peppers, but possibly by the Mapuche people, from their word "chilli", meaning "where the land ends". Columbus called the chile pods he "discovered" PIMIENTO (Pepper) after PIMIENTA, the precious black pepper pods he was in search of. Chiles, or peppers, are of the genus CAPSICUM (from the Greek word kapto or "to bite").
Botanists believe the Capsicum or all chiles originated in an area in South American known as a "nuclear area". This region is bordered by the
mountains of southern Brazil, Bolivia to the west, Paraquay and northern Argentina to the south. In this region, the greatest concentration of wild species of chiles in the world as well representative of all
the major domesticated species.
The exact time frame is not certain, but approximately 8000 years ago, various species of birds, attracted to the red pungent fruit, consumed the pods
intact and through their digestion and migration, deposited through out South and Central America. Traces of chiles from this period have been found in burial sites in Peru. The pre-Columbian Amerindians
spread the "spice" to Mesoamerica and the Caribbean, domesticating four or five species cultivated today. Chiles were common in the diets of the Incas, Mayans, Aztecs among other pre-Columbian
civilizations. The Mayans cultivated many types of chiles - 30 varieties being identified. The Aztecs used them in almost every dish. Their sophisticated cuisine included Mole sauces and tamales,
foundations for Mexican food today. It is also is probable that peppers were used for medicinal purposes as well.
Several thousand years later entered Columbus in search of riches, including the spices of the East Indies and the Middle East. One of the treasures
he took back with him to the Queen of Spain was specimens of this new flora. At the time, black pepper was as valuable as silver in the European marketplace. The fruit from the seeds the Columbus and other explorers
brought back to the Old World received a rousing reception as a substitute for black pepper, adding a welcome flavor to the bland European cuisine. The rest is history. The chile was a commodity, traded on
the world's markets and transplanted with the movements explorers, settlers and conquerors. The Spanish and Portuguese explorers took chiles with them on their travels and chiles were established along the new
maritime trade routes to North Africa, the West African coast, Madagascar and India. By 1550, chiles had reached western China, Southeast Asia and the East Indies. Land-locked countries were included in
this worldwide distribution. Even Hungary adopted pods and became famous for "paprika". Chiles were soon cultivated and consumed in throughout the cultures of the world. WITHIN 100 YEARS CHILES HAD
SPREAD FROM THE AMERICAS COMPLETELY AROUND THE WORLD.
In 1785, George Washington planted two rows of bird peppers and one row of one of Cayenne at Mount Vernon (it is not known how he got his hands on the
Thomas Jefferson grew peppers imported from Mexico.
Chiles soon became a common denominator throughout the world's cultures and cuisines. Today, chile peppers are consumed in the regular diet of
an estimated 75% of the world's population. Chiles can be considered a "roving ambassador", opening our minds and souls to new experiences of the palate, as well as, meeting some wonderful new friends from all
walks of life!