Surprises in the plant world have no limits. A great example – the chili pepper. Chilies can start a fire in your mouth and bring tears to your eyes. It’s hard to say that a dish is bland when you add chili peppers to it, instead it turns a dish spicy and gives you a powerful eating experience.
A Spicy Blessing
The chili pepper is considered the first spice to have ever been used by humans. Seeds of chili peppers have been found in archaeological deposits dating as far back as 7,000 BC in Tehuacan, Mexico. The earliest records of these peppers date about 2,000 years later. The spicy blessing of chilies spread to the rest of the world only after Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean in 1493. Before this year, they were completely unknown in Europe. This well-known explorer and navigator planned to sail to India to bring back valuable and expensive spices, including pepper. Instead, he brought chili back with him to Europe, where it became an indispensable spice. Chili also became extremely popular in India after it was first brought by the Portuguese explorer Vasco –da-Gama in 1498.
A pepper that's not really a pepper
Christopher Columbus not only mistook America for India but also mistook chili for a regular pepper. This is how the chili got the name ‘chili pepper’. Chili belongs in the same family as tomatoes and potatoes – Solanaceae family of nightshades, not an actual pepper family (Piperaceae). Common pepper (Piper nigrum), a perennial woody vine growing up to 13ft (4 m), native to South India. Chili pepper (Capsicum frutescens) is a perennial herb from tropical America, growing up to 2.3 ft (0.7 m). Their fruits are also different. The fruit of chili peppers is a fleshy berry containing numerous seeds, and peppers have a drupe with one seed. The only similarity between pepper and chili is the spicy-bitter taste.
Spicy sauces and pepper spray.
The scientific name of chili “Capsicum” is derived from the Greek word "Kapsimo" meaning "to bite”, refers to the extreme taste of chilies. The pungency is due to unique alkaloid capsaicin that stimulates the nerves of the skin, especially in the mucosa. The spiciness of the chili and the level of capsaicin is measured by the Scoville scale, which was named after an American pharmacist Wilbur Lincoln Scoville. The unit - SHU demonstrates the amount of capsaicin in dry mass. The most famous so-called super hot chilly is 'Bhut Jolokia’ or Ghost Chili from Northwest India, which was named world’s hottest chili in the 2007 Guinness World Book of Records - 1,041,000 SHU. Eating Ghost chili is a real challenge. It has been said that if you eat Bhut Jolokia the experience can be so extreme you would rather be a ghost. The effects have been compared to drinking a cocktail of battery acid and broken glass. This is the first pepper, to scientifically test over 1 million SHU. The small fruits of Ghost Chili are highly valued both dry and fresh. “Bhut Jolokiat” is used worldwide for making hot sauces, but also pepper spray. In the homeland of Ghost Chili, it is rubbed on people’s fences to prevent wild elephant attacks. It can be used in smoke bombs, and sprays that won’t kill but are good for controlling riots. In 2012, a new star rose to be the hottest pepper in the world – “Trinidad Moruga Scorpion” 1,463,700 SHU. While testing this pepper many pairs of rubber gloves have dissolved before picking all of it. However, in 2013, the world’s hottest chili pepper rated by the Guinness World Book of Records is the ‘Carolina Reaper’ - 2,200,000 SHU. The original crossbreed was between a Ghost Chili and a Red Habanero from South Carolina.
In my kitchen, the chili pepper has become an indispensable spice that attacks the senses. I like to add some zest to different puree soups, so I use chili. But my firm favorite food is chili jam - I have an old recipe from Calabria, Italy that I use. I add this jam to supplement meat and cheese trays. Chili jam is also a great addition to vanilla ice cream and cheesecakes. I often like to say - just a bit chili and your pallet will stop feeling gray, just a little bit of chili - that's how simple it can be.
Author KRISTA KAUR MSc
As you might have guessed, the picture in the blog is from a chili plant growing in Natufia Kitchen Garden. After a while we will have our own chilis to spice up the winter.
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