Chili History

The birth date of the chili is unknown, however evidence exists from archaeology that the chili was in use as early as 7000 BC in New Mexico and had become domesticated in Ecuador over 6000 years ago.

Christopher Columbus had a huge impact on the world – at least in the chili pepper world. Diego Alvarez Chanca, a physician on board his ship in 1493, during his second voyage to the West Indies, is credited with carrying the first chili peppers to Spain. In 1494, Chanca first wrote about the medicinal benefits of these fiery peppers which led to them being cultivated in their masses for human consumption.

Red and green chili peppersThe Spanish found that drying and crushing the pepper pods made for an excellent (if not hot) alterative to black peppercorns that was already extensively used in European dishes. They called their creation “pimienta” which is Spanish for pepper or “pemienta chili” so as to be able to distnguish them from peppercorns. Soon after, tons of chilis were being shipped back to Spain every year – chili powder was born.

The Portuguese however took things a step further. They shipped mature chili plants to their various settlements in the East Indies and christened then Pernombuco pepper. Given that the chili was much easier to grow than the peppercorn, it wasn’t long before the  fiery version was the more poular of the two.

As the climate of southern Europe was ideal for growing chili peppers, it wasn’t long before the pepper had been embraced in all European market places. From Europe, the chili migrated into Asia, and the Philipines and from there into India, China, Korea and Japan.

Powdered chili appeared in many 18th century recipes, but it was the Victorians who really took it to their heart, with their love for Indian dishes that had become popular during the height of the British Empire in India.

Very soon afterwards, companies such as Crosse & Blackwel, Harveys and Lazenbys began manufacturing hot pepper sauces to complement the Victorian table.

During the 20th century, powdered chili was used in national and ethnic dishes worldwide, from South America to North America, China and southwest Asia to India and Africa.