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The chilli pepper (also chile pepper or chilli pepper, from Nahuatl chīlli /ˈt͡ʃiːli/) is the fruit of plants from the genus Capsicum, members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. In Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and other Asian countries, the word "pepper" is usually omitted.
The substances that give chilli peppers their intensity when ingested or applied topically are capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) and several related chemicals, collectively called capsaicinoids.
Chilli peppers originated in the Americas. After the Columbian Exchange, many cultivars of chilli pepper spread across the world, used in both food and medicine. Chillies were brought to Asia by Portuguese navigators during the 16th century.
India is the world's largest producer, consumer and exporter of chilli peppers. Guntur in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh produces 30% of all the chillies produced in India, and Andhra Pradesh as a whole contributes 75% of India's chilli exports.
Chilli peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500 BC. The most recent research shows that chilli peppers were domesticated more than 6000 years ago in Mexico, in the region that extends across southern Puebla and northern Oaxaca to southeastern Veracruz, and were one of the first self-pollinating crops cultivated in Mexico, Central and parts of South America.
Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter them (in the Caribbean), and called them "peppers" because they, like black and white pepper of the Piper genus known in Europe, have a spicy hot taste unlike other foodstuffs. Upon their introduction into Europe, chillies were grown as botanical curiosities in the gardens of Spanish and Portuguese monasteries. But the monks experimented with the chilli 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.
Chillies 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 chilli peppers to Spain and first wrote about their medicinal effects in 1494.
The spread of chilli peppers to Asia was most likely a natural consequence of its introduction to Portuguese traders (Lisbon was a common port of call for Spanish ships sailing to and from the Americas) who, aware of its trade value, would have likely promoted its commerce in the Asian spice trade routes then dominated by Portuguese and Arab traders. Today chillies are an integral part of South Asian and Southeast Asian cuisines.
There is a verifiable correlation between the chilli pepper geographical dissemination and consumption in Asia and the presence of Portuguese traders, India and southeast Asia being obvious examples.
The chilli pepper features 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). Chilli peppers journeyed from India, through Central Asia and Turkey, to Hungary, where they became the national spice in the form of paprika.
An alternate, although not so plausible account (no obvious correlation between its dissemination in Asia and Spanish presence or trade routes), defended mostly by Spanish historians, was that from Mexico, at the time a Spanish colony, chilli peppers spread into their other colony the Philippines and from there to India, China, Indonesia. To Japan, it was brought by the Portuguese missionaries in 1542, and then later, it was brought to Korea.
In 1995 archaeobotanist Hakon Hjelmqvist published an article in Svensk Botanisk Tidskrift claiming there was evidence for the presence of chilli peppers in Europe in pre-Columbian times. According to Hjelmqvist, archaeologists at a dig in St Botulf in Lund found a Capsicum frutescens in a layer from the 13th century. Hjelmqvist thought it came from Asia. Hjelmqvist also said that Capsicum was described by the Greek Theophrastus (370–286 BCE) in his Historia Plantarum, and in other sources. Around the first century CE, the Roman poet Martialis (Martial) mentioned "Piperve crudum" (raw pepper) in Liber XI, XVIII, allegedly describing them as long and containing seeds (a description which seems to fit chilli peppers - but could also fit the long pepper, which was well known to ancient Romans).
SPECIES AND CULTIVARS
The five domesticated species of chilli peppers are as follows:
Though there are only a few commonly used species, there are many cultivars and methods of preparing chilli peppers that have different names for culinary use. Green and red bell peppers, for example, are the same cultivar of C. annuum, immature peppers being green. In the same species are the jalapeño, the poblano (which when dried is referred to as ancho), New Mexico (which is also known as chile colorado), Anaheim, serrano, and other cultivars.
Peppers are commonly broken down into three groupings: bell peppers, sweet peppers, and hot peppers. Most popular pepper varieties are seen as falling into one of these categories or as a cross between them.
The substances that give chilli 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 also the primary component in pepper spray, a less-than-lethal weapon.
When consumed, capsaicinoids bind with pain receptors in the mouth and throat that are 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 thermal energy.
The "heat" of chilli peppers was historically measured in Scoville heat units (SHU), which is a measure of the dilution of an amount of chilli extract added to sugar syrup before its heat becomes undetectable to a panel of tasters; the more it has to be diluted to be undetectable, the more powerful the variety and therefore the higher the rating. The modern commonplace method for quantitative analysis of SHU rating uses high-performance liquid chromatography to directly measure the capsaicinoid content of a chilli pepper variety. Pure capsaicin is a hydrophobic, colourless, odourless, and crystalline-to-waxy solid at room temperature, and measures 16,000,000 SHU.
A wide range of intensity is found in commonly used peppers:
Notably hot chilli peppers
Some of the world's hottest chilli peppers are:
Chilli pepper pods, which are berries, are used fresh or dried. Chillies are dried to preserve them for long periods of time, which may also be done by pickling.
Dried chillies are often ground into powders, although many Mexican dishes including variations on chillies rellenos use the entire chilli. Dried whole chillies may be reconstituted before grinding to a paste. The chipotle is the smoked, dried, ripe jalapeño.
Many fresh chillies such as poblano have a tough outer skin that does not break down on cooking. Chillies are sometimes used whole or in large slices, by roasting, or other means of blistering or charring the skin, so as not to entirely cook the flesh beneath. When cooled, the skins will usually slip off easily.
The leaves of every species of Capsicum are edible. Though almost all other Solanaceous crops have toxins in their leaves, chilli peppers do not. The leaves, which are mildly bitter and nowhere near as hot as the fruit, are cooked as greens in Filipino cuisine, where they are called dahon ng sili (literally "chilli leaves"). They are used in the chicken soup tinola. In Korean cuisine, the leaves may be used in kimchi. In Japanese cuisine, the leaves are cooked as greens, and also cooked in tsukudani style for preservation.
Chilli is by far the most important fruit in Bhutan. Local markets are never without chillies in different colours and sizes, in fresh and dried form. Bhutanese call this crop ema (in Dzongkha) or solo (in Sharchop). Chilli is a staple fruit in Bhutan; the ema datsi recipe is entirely made of chilli mixed with local cheese. Chilli is also an important ingredient in almost all curries and food recipes in the country.
In India, most households always keep a stack of fresh hot green chillies at hand, and use them to flavour most curries and dry dishes. It is typically lightly fried with oil in the initial stages of preparation of the dish. Some states in India, such as Rajasthan, make entire dishes only by using spices and chillies.
Chillies are present in many cuisines. Some notable dishes other than the ones mentioned elsewhere in this article include:
Arrabbiata sauce from Italy is a tomato-based sauce for pasta always including dried hot chillies. Puttanesca sauce is tomato-based with olives, capers, anchovy and, sometimes, chillies.
Paprikash from Hungary uses significant amounts of mild, ground, dried chillies, known as paprika, in a braised chicken dish.
Chiles en nogada from the Puebla region of Mexico uses fresh mild chillies stuffed with meat and covered with a creamy nut-thickened sauce.
Curry dishes usually contain fresh or dried chillies.
Kung pao chicken (also spelled gong bao) from the Sichuan region of China uses small hot dried chillies briefly fried in oil to add spice to the oil then used for frying.
Mole poblano from the city of Puebla in Mexico uses several varieties of dried chillies, nuts, spices, and fruits to produce a thick, dark sauce for poultry or other meats.
Nam phrik are traditional Thai chilli pastes and sauces, prepared with chopped fresh or dry chillies, and additional ingredients such as fish sauce, lime juice, and herbs, but also fruit, meat or seafood.
'Nduja, a more typical example of Italian spicy speciality, from the region of Calabria, is a soft, pork sausage made "hot" by the addition of the locally grown variety of jalapeño chilli.
Paprykarz szczeciński is a Polish fish paste with rice, onion, tomato concentrate, vegetable oil, chilli pepper powder and other spices.
Sambal belacan (pronounced "blachan") is a traditional Malay sauce made by frying a mixture of mainly pounded dried chillies and fermented prawn paste. It is customarily served with rice dishes and is especially popular when mixed with crunchy pan-roasted ikan bilis (sun-dried anchovies), when it is known as sambal ikan bilis.
Som tam, a green papaya salad from Thai and Lao cuisine, traditionally has, as a key ingredient, a fistful of chopped fresh hot Thai chilli, pounded in a mortar.
Fresh or dried chillies are often used to make hot sauce, a liquid condiment—usually bottled when commercially available—that adds spice to other dishes. Hot sauces are found in many cuisines including harissa from North Africa, chilli oil from China (known as rāyu in Japan), and sriracha from Thailand.
SPELLING AND USAGE
The three primary spellings are chili, chile and chilli, all of which are recognized by dictionaries.
The name of the plant is almost certainly unrelated to that of Chile, the country, which has an uncertain etymology perhaps relating to local place names. Chile, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are some of the Spanish-speaking countries where chillies are known as ají, a word of Taíno origin. Though pepper originally referred to the genus Piper, not Capsicum, the latter usage is included in English dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary (sense 2b of pepper) and Merriam-Webster. The word pepper is also commonly used in the botanical and culinary fields in the names of different types of chilli plants and their fruits.
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