Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Joy of Chili

Today's interesting Wikipedia article: a summary of the biology, history and culinary uses of the chili pepper in all its varieties and permutations. I have to admit to being surprised that the plant family is native only to South and Central America (including the Caribbean). Who would have thought that with its importance to cuisine from East Africa to Italy to India to Southeast Asia to China, this marvellous source of piquancy only become known to the rest of the world through Iberian colonisation of the Americas in the 16th century?

If they haven't already, someone should surely write a sweeping historical biography of the pepper's rise to world domination, along the lines of such books on salt, sugar, and, um, cod.

A prize to readers who can name other major food products that are widespread staples or central ingredients in national and international cuisines yet are relatively recent gifts to the world from Latin America. (Actually, no prize sorry, but see if you can name some anyway).


Susan said...

How about potatoes, and maize for a start. Coffee?? not sure about that one. Angostura bitters - if you call that a staple...

Simon Bidwell said...

Very good, you have two of the big ones:

--maize / corn

Angostura bitters I hadn't thought of, but you're right, I see the key ingredient comes from what is now Ciudad Bolivar in Venezuela. I should have mentioned that I am not counting either animal products or alcohol, since all societies across the world have generally used whatever was at hand. However, as a flavour enhance more than an alcoholic drink, we can count angostura.

Coffee: no -- it is believed to have originated in Ethiopia or Yemen and was brought to Italy and from thence to the rest of Europe and the world.

Paola said...

Please, don't forget the Chocolate? well... in this case cocoa?

Simon Bidwell said...

Aha...yes, you've mentioned another big one: chocolate. For those with a sweet tooth, as big a gift to the world as the chili pepper for the more savoury-inclined. Of course, if you're Mexican you can happily mix them both together...

Paola said...

Well, being Colombian I preffer to mix chocolate with pineapple or guava, other products from South America. What is better than a chocolate bar with a pineapple o guava filling?

Soph said...

Tomato? Not sure about these but I think so

Simon Bidwell said...

Very good!

Yes, we can add the following:

-- Pineapple
-- Guava (maybe down the list of global importance, but yes, it is from Latin America)