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JJewish Recipes --> Spices and Ingredients  -- > Peppers -- > Chile Peppers

The chile pepper, chili pepper, or chilli pepper, or simply chile, is the fruit of the plant Capsicum from the nightshade family, Solanaceae. The name comes from Nahuatl via the Spanish word chile.

History

Chile peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since about 7500 BC. They were domesticated there between 5200 and 3400 BC, one of the first cultivated crops in the Americas. Chile peppers are thought to have been domesticated at least five times by prehistoric peoples in different parts of South and Middle America and North America, from Peru in the south to Mexico in the north and parts of Colorado and New Mexico Anazazi.

They were discovered in the Caribbean by Columbus and named "peppers" because of their 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 chile 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, chile peppers spread rapidly into the Philippines and then to India, China, and Japan with the aid of European sailors. The new spice was quickly incorporated into the local cuisines.

Species and cultivars

The most common species of chile peppers are:

  • Capsicum annuum, which includes many common varieties such as bell peppers, paprika, jalapeños, and the chiltepin
  • Capsicum frutescent, which includes the cayenne and Tabasco peppers
  • Capsicum chinense, which includes the hottest peppers such as habaneras and Scotch bonnets
  • Capsicum pubescens, which includes the South American rocoto peppers
  •  Capsicum baccatum, which includes the South American aji peppers

Though there are only a few commonly used species, there are many cultivars and methods of preparing chile peppers that have different common names for culinary use. Green and red bell peppers, for example, are the same cultivar of C. annuum, the green ones being immature. In the same species are the jalapeño, the chipotle (a smoked jalapeño), the poblano, ancho (which is a dried poblano), New Mexico, Anaheim, Serrano, and other cultivars. Jamaicans, Scotch bonnets, and habaneros are common varieties of C. chinense. The species C. frutescens appears as chiles de arbol, aji, pequin, tabasco, cayenne, cherry peppers, malagueta and others.

Heat

The substances that gives chile peppers their heat is capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) and several related chemicals, collectively called capsaicinoids. Capsaicin is the primary ingredient in pepper spray. The "heat" of chile peppers is measured in Scoville units. Bell peppers rank at zero Scoville units, jalapeños at 3,000–6,000 Scoville units, and habaneros at 300,000 Scoville units. The record for the highest number of Scoville units in a chile pepper is assigned by the Guinness Book of Records to the Red Savina Habanero, measuring 577,000 units. However, a recent report was made of a pepper from India called the Naga Jolokia measuring at 855,000 Scoville units. Both the Red Savina and the Naga Jolokia claims are disputed as to their validity, and lack independent verification. Pure capsaicin rates at 16,000,000 Scoville units.

Cuisine

The fruit is eaten cooked or raw for its fiery hot flavor which is concentrated along the top of the pod. The stem end of the pod has glands which produce the capsaicin, which then flows down through the pod. Removing the seeds(citation needed) and inner membranes is thus effective at reducing the heat of a pod.

Well-known dishes with a strong chile flavor are Mexican salsas, Tex-Mex chili con carne, and Indian vindaloos and other curries. Chili powder is a spice made of the dried ground chiles, usually of the Mexican chile ancho variety, but with small amounts of cayenne added for heat. Bottled hot sauces such as Tabasco sauce are made from chiles such as the cayenne (not, oddly, from tabasco peppers), which may also be fermented.

Indonesian, Indian, Szechuan and Thai cuisines are particularly associated with the chile pepper, although the plant was unknown in Asia until Europeans introduced it there.

Sambal is dipping sauce made from chile peppers with any other ingredients such as garlic, onion, shallots, salt, vinegar and sugar. It is very popular in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Popularity

Chile peppers are popular in food. They are rich in vitamin C and are believed to have many beneficial effects on health. The pain caused by capsaicin stimulates the brain to produce endorphins, natural opioids which act as analgesics and produce a sense of well-being. Psychologist Paul Rozin suggests that eating chiles is an example of a "constrained risk" like riding a roller coaster, in which extreme sensations like pain and fear can be enjoyed because we know they are not actually harmful.

Birds do not have the same sensitivity to capsaicin as mammals, as capsaicin acts on a specific nerve receptor in mammals, and avian nervous systems are rather different. Chile peppers are in fact a favorite food of many birds living in the chile peppers' natural range. The flesh of the peppers provides the birds with a nutritious meal rich in vitamin C. In return, the seeds of the peppers are distributed by the birds, as they drop the seeds while eating the pods or the seeds pass through the digestive tract unharmed. This relationship is theorized to have promoted the evolution of the protective capsaicin. The chemical used to give an artificial grape flavoring to food items such as grape soda does have a similar effect on birds as capsaicin has on humans.

Spelling and usage

The three primary spellings used are chile, chili, and chilli, all of which are recognized by dictionaries.

  • Chile is the American (uncommon elsewhere) spelling which refers specifically to this plant and its fruit. This orthography is universal in the Spanish-speaking world, although in some parts the plant and its fruit are better known as ají.
  • Chili is also quite popular, but its use is discouraged by some, as this word is more commonly used to refer to a popular Southwestern dish (chili is the official state dish of Texas [2]), as well as to the mixture of cumin and other spices (chili powder) used to flavor it. Chile powder, on the other hand, is powdered dried chile peppers.
  • Chilli, the original Nahuatl word, is used in correct spelling according to the Oxford English Dictionary however, it also lists chilli as the main spelling, and chile and chili as variant spellings.

The name of this 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 chiles are known as ají.

There is some disagreement about whether it is proper to use the word "pepper" when discussing chile peppers because "pepper" refers to the genus Piper, not Capsicum. Despite this dispute, English dictionaries support a sense of pepper referring to Capsicum, such as the Oxford English Dictionary (sense 2b of pepper) and Merriam-Webster [3]. Furthermore, the word "pepper" is commonly used in the botanical and culinary fields in the names of different types of chile peppers.

Nutritional value

Red chiles are very rich in vitamin C, and rich in provitamin A. Yellow and especially green chiles (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.

Sept 2005 - 2013 - Kosher Recipes - Kosher Cooking - Jewish Cooking - Jewish Recipes - Jewish Foods