The chili pepper is the fruit of plants from the genus Capsicum, members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. In Australia, Britain, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and in other Asian countries, it is usually known simply as chilli.
The substances that give chili peppers their intensity when ingested or applied topically are capsaicin and several related chemicals, collectively called capsaicinoids.
Chili peppers originated in the Americas. After the Columbian Exchange, many cultivars of chili pepper spread across the world, used in both food and medicine. Chilies were brought to Asia by Portuguese navigators during the 16th century.
India is the world’s biggest producer, consumer and exporter of child peppers. Guntur in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh produces 30% of all the chilies produced in India.Andhra Pradesh as a whole contributes 75% of India’s chili exports.
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
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.
SITES WITH INTERESTING INFORMATION ON CHILLIES