Chili pepper (also known as, or spelled, chilli pepper, chilli, chili, and chile) is the fruit of the plants from the genus Capsicum, members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. Botany considers the plant a berry bush. Depending on flavor intensity and fleshiness, their culinary use varies from use as a vegetable (eg. bell pepper) to use as a spice (eg. cayenne pepper). It is the fruit that is harvested.
Chili peppers originated in the Americas; and their cultivars are now grown around the world, because they are widely used as food and as medicine.
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 southwestern Ecuador that chili peppers were domesticated more than 6000 years ago, and is one of the first cultivated crops in the Americas that is self-pollinating.
Chili peppers were domesticated at least in different parts of South and Middle America.
Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter them (in the Caribbean), and called them “peppers” because of their similarity in taste (though not in appearance) with the Old World Black peppers of the Piper genus.
Chilies were cultivated around the globe after Columbus. Diego Álvarez Chanca, a physician on Columbus’ second voyage to the West Indies in 1493, brought the first chili peppers to Spain, and first wrote about their medicinal effects in 1494.
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, Korea and Japan. They were quickly incorporated into the local cuisines.
An alternate sequence for chili peppers’ spread has the Portuguese getting the pepper from Spain, and thence to India, as described by Lizzie Collingham in her book Curry. Collingham states in her book that the chili pepper figures heavily in the cuisine of the Goan region of India, which was the site of a Portuguese colony (e.g. Vindaloo, an Indian interpretation of a Portuguese dish). Collingham also describes the journey of chili peppers from India, through Central Asia and Turkey, to Hungary, where it became the national spice in the form of paprika.
There are speculations about pre-Columbian chili peppers in Europe. In an archaeological dig in the block of St. Botulf in Lund, archaeologists found a Capsicum frutescens in a layer dating to the 13th century. Hjelmqvist says that Capsicum was described by the Greek Theophrastus (370-286 BC). He mentions other ancient sources. The Roman poet Martialis (around the 1st century) described “Piper crudum” (raw pepper) to be long and containing seeds. The description of the plants does not fit Black pepper (Piper nigrum), which grows poorly in European climates.
The Black Habanero (Chocolate Habanero, Habanero Negro), is thought to be the closest to the original peppers that grew in the South American coastal plains. It is known to gourmets but rarely available, due in part to its long maturity. Seeds are available today but care is needed when purchasing as many sub species are sold under the same name.
The substances that give chili peppers their intensity when ingested or applied topically are capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) and several related chemicals, collectively called capsaicinoids. Capsaicin is the primary ingredient in pepper spray.
When consumed, capsaicinoids bind with pain receptors in the mouth and throat that are normally responsible for sensing heat. Once activated by the capsaicinoids, these receptors send a message to the brain that the person has consumed something hot. The brain responds to the burning sensation by raising the heart rate, increasing perspiration and release of endorphins. A 2008 study reports that capsaicin alters how the body’s cells use energy produced by hydrolysis of ATP. In the normal hydrolysis the SERCA protein uses this energy to move calcium ions into the sarcoplasmic reticulum. When capsaicin is present, it alters the conformation of the SERCA and thus reduces the ion movement; as a result the ATP energy (which would have been used to pump the ions) is instead released as heat.
The “heat” of chili peppers is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU), which is the number of times a chili extract must be diluted in water for it to lose its heat. Bell peppers rank at 0 SHU, New Mexico green chilis at about 1,500 SHU, jalapeños at 3,000–6,000 SHU, and habaneros at 300,000 SHU. The record for the hottest chili pepper was assigned by the Guinness Book of Records to the Naga Jolokia, measuring over 1,000,000 SHU. Pure capsaicin, which is a hydrophobic, colorless, odorless, and crystalline-to-waxy solid at room temperature, measures 16,000,000 SHU.
The chili has a long association with and is extensively used in Mexican and certain South American cuisines, and later adapted into the emerging Tex-Mex cuisine. Although unknown in Africa and Asia until its introduction from the New World by the Europeans, the chili pepper has since become an essential pillar of the cuisines of Eritrea,Ethiopia, Nepal, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Southwest China (including Sichuan cuisine), Sri Lanka, Thailand, West Africa and many other cooking traditions.
The fruit is eaten raw or cooked for its fiery hot flavour, concentrated along the top of the pod. The stem end of the pod has most of the glands that produce the capsaicin. The white flesh surrounding the seeds contains the highest concentration of capsaicin. Removing the inner membranes is thus effective at reducing the heat of a pod.
Fresh Indian Green Chilis sold in HAL market, BangaloreChili is sold worldwide fresh, dried and powdered. In the United States, it is often made from the Mexican chile ancho variety, but with small amounts of cayenne added for heat. In the Southwest United States, dried ground chili peppers, cumin, garlic and oregano is often known as chili powder. Chipotles are dry, smoked red (ripe) jalapeños.
Chili peppers are used around the world to make a countless variety of sauces, known as hot sauce, chile sauce, or pepper sauce. In Turkey, chilis are known as Kırmızı Biber (Red Pepper) or Acı Biber (Hot Pepper), and are used in the form of either red pepper paste (Biber Salçasi) which can be hot or mild. Harissa is a hot pepper sauce made of chili, garlic and flavoured with spices, originating in Tunisia and widely used in its cuisine, both as a condiment and as seasoning. Harissa is also found in other North African cuisines, though it is often treated as a table condiment to be served on the side.
Indian cooking has multiple uses for chilis, from simple snacks like bhaji where the chilis are dipped in batter and fried, to wonderfully complex curries. Chilis are dried, roasted and salted as a side dish for rice varieties such as dadhyodanam (“dadhi” curd, “odanam” rice in Sanskrit) or Thayir sadam (curd rice) or Daal Rice (rice with lentils). The soaked and dried chillies are a seasoning ingredient in recipes such as kootu. It is called “mirapa” (మిరప)in telugu.
Sambal is a versatile relish made from chili peppers as well as other ingredients such as garlic, onion, shallots, salt, vinegar and sugar, which is popular in Indonesia and Malaysia, and also in Sri Lanka (called “sambol”) and South Africa, where they were introduced by Malay migrant workers who arrived in the 19th century. It can be used as a dipping sauce, as an ingredient in recipes and even as a dressing for cold dishes (or “salads”).
Chili pepper plant leaves, mildly bitter but not nearly as hot as the fruits that come from the same plant, are cooked as greens in Filipino cuisine, where they are called dahon ng sili (literally “chili leaves”). They are used in the chicken soup, tinola. In Korean cuisine, the leaves may be used in kimchi. (풋고추잎 깍두기). In Japanese cuisine, the leaves are cooked as greens, and also cooked in tsukudani style for preservation.
In Italian cuisine crushed red pepper flakes are a common ingredient on pizza among other things. It is also commonly used in Turkey as a garnish, called Biber Dövme.
Some chili peppers are not grown for consumption, they are instead grown for decorative qualities: “ornamental peppers”. Some are too hot for typical cooking, or are not palatable. Regardless, ornamental peppers have unusual shapes or colours. Examples include Thai Ornamental, Black Pearl, Marble, and Numex Twilight. The Medusa pepper is a green plant that produces fruit starting purple, then ripening to yellow, orange, and red. Black Pearl has black leaves and round black fruit that ripen to a bright red.
In India, chili is used with lime to ward off evil spirits and is seen in vehicles and in homes for that purpose. It is used to check the evil eye and remove its effects in Hinduism as people will also be asked to spit into a handful of chilies kept in that plate, which are thrown into fire. If the chilis make a noise – as they should – then there is no case of “drishti” (evil eye); if on the other hand they do not, then the spell of the evil eye is removed in the fire.
Red chilis contain high amounts of vitamin C and carotene (“provitamin A”). Yellow and especially green chilis (which are essentially unripe fruit) contain a considerably lower amount of both substances. In addition, peppers are a good source of most B vitamins, and vitamin B6 in particular. They are very high in potassium and high in magnesium and iron. Their high vitamin C content can also substantially increase the uptake of non-heme iron from other ingredients in a meal, such as beans and grains.
Psychologist Paul Rozin suggests that eating chilis is an example of a “constrained risk” like riding a roller coaster, in which extreme sensations like pain and fear can be enjoyed because individuals know that these sensations are not actually harmful. This method lets people experience extreme feelings without any risk of bodily harm.
Birds do not have the same sensitivity to capsaicin because it targets a specific pain receptor in mammals. Chili peppers are eaten by birds living in the chili peppers’ natural range. The seeds of the peppers are distributed by the birds that drop the seeds while eating the pods, and the seeds pass through the digestive tract unharmed. This relationship may have promoted the evolution of the protective capsaicin. Products based on this substance have been sold to treat the seeds in bird feeders to deter squirrels and other mammalian vermin without also deterring birds. Capsaicin is also a defense mechanism against microbial fungi that invades through punctures made in the outer skin by various insects.
Spelling And Usage
The three primary spellings are chili, chile and chilli, all of which are recognized by dictionaries.
Chili is widely used, although in much of South America the plant and its fruit are better known as ají, locoto, chile, or rocoto. However, this spelling is discouraged by some in the United States of America, since it also commonly refers to a popular Southwestern-American dish (also known as chili con carne (literally chili with meat); the official state dish of Texas), as well as to the mixture of cumin and other spices (chili powder) used to flavor it. Chili, as in the case of Cincinnati chili, can also refer to ground beef stews that do not actually contain any chile peppers. Chili powder and chile powder, on the other hand, can both refer to dried, ground chili peppers.
Chile is an alternate usage, the most common Spanish spelling in Mexico, as well as some parts of the United States of America and Canada, which refers specifically to this plant and its fruit. In the American southwest (particularly northern New Mexico), chile also denotes a thick, spicy, un-vinegared sauce, which is available in red and green varieties and which is often served over most New Mexican cuisine.
Chilli was the original Romanization of the Náhuatl language word for the fruit (chīlli) and is the preferred British spelling according to the Oxford English Dictionary, although it also lists chile and chili as variants. This spelling is discouraged by some, since it would be pronounced differently in Spanish, into which it was first Romanized.
The name of the plant bears no relation to Chile, the country, which is named after the Quechua chin (“cold”), tchili (“snow”), or chilli (“where the land ends”). Chile is one of the Spanish-speaking countries where chilis are known as ají, a word of Taíno origin.
There is also some disagreement about whether it is proper to use the word pepper when discussing chili peppers because pepper originally referred to the genus Piper, not Capsicum. Despite this dispute, a sense of pepper referring to Capsicum is supported by English dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary (sense 2b of pepper) and Merriam-Webster. Furthermore, the word pepper is commonly used in the botanical and culinary fields in the names of different types of chili peppers.
You can Find number of recipes containing green chillies in Ayesha’s Kitchen: