Now found on every continent, chili peppers first conjure up images of faraway, exotic lands in the collective imagination. But did you know that this magma-colored delicacy traveled far and wide before finding its way onto our European plates? We'll tell you all about it in a few lines...
The chili pepper, fruit of a plant in the Solanaceae family (like the tomato, potato and eggplant), originated in Central and South America. Originating in and around Bolivia, it is thought to have spread throughout South America via birds, which disseminated chilli seeds after digestion. The first traces of culinary use of chillies date back some 8,000 years, to Mesoamerican civilizations. Chillies were also used for decorative purposes and for their supposed medicinal virtues.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the chili pepper on his voyage to America. Doctor Diego Alvarez Chanca, a member of the expedition, decided to bring some back to Spain, hoping it would appeal to his contemporaries. But to no avail: the chili pepper held little appeal compared to pepper, which was firmly established in the culinary habits of the old continent.
Nevertheless, chillies regained interest following the economic crisis of pepper, and the explosion of taxes on spices from Asia. Both factors encouraged maritime trade, particularly to India. It was against this backdrop that, in 1498, the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama discovered the Malabar coast of India via the Cape of Good Hope. Peppers were cultivated in Portuguese colonies and exported to India, China, the Middle East, Turkey and Hungary (where paprika originated).
In France, it was in the 17th century that certain producers in the Basque region began to cultivate chillies of West Indian and South American origin. These peppers are of a variety called Gorria, now known as piment d'Espelette.
Sources : www.blog.pourdebon.com, l’origine du piment, Marine, 22/05/2020
www.epices-roellinger.com, Origine et histoire du piment,
www.alimentarium.org, Voyage du piment, Diana Danko