The chili pepper comes from Central America. The Aztecs and Mayans used this plant for both food and medicine, while the Incas also thought it to be sacred. Traces of chili pepper cultivation dating back over 7,000 years were found in Mexico, which is still the champion of chili pepper varieties today.
The chili was an ingredient of tchacahoua, a drink made from cacao and corn that the natives offered to Christopher Columbus when he landed in the New World, believing himself to be in the Indies. Nicolas Monardes, botanist and physician who was part of the expedition, described for the first time this "fruit as long as cinnamon, full of small grains as biting as pepper."
They took the seeds of this "pepper from the Indies" back with them. They were soon planted in Spain and then the chili pepper went on to be cultivated in Italy from 1526 and from 1569 in Hungary.
Very strong spices were all the rage at the time. The chili pepper soon gained popularity everywhere, as it was cheaper than pepper and ginger.
The Portuguese took it to India, Africa, and Asia, where the plant was easily cultivated.
Within one century, the chili pepper became an integral part of all cuisines around the world. It is the most widely consumed spice.
In France and the Basque Country, the Espelette pepper (Ezpeletako biperra in Basque), now protected by a PDO, has been grown since the 17th century. It was first used to flavor chocolate as Bayonne was the leading producer of chocolate in the kingdom at the time.
Depending on the variety, chili peppers can be bought fresh or dried and whole, canned and whole, sometimes as a paste, and often in powder form.
Espelette pepper can be bought as strings of fresh or dried peppers, ground, as paste, or jelly.
Fresh chilies should be fleshy, without blemishes.
Dried chilies should have no traces of mold.
All chili peppers should be handled with caution, and anyone handling them should be especially careful not to rub their eyes. The strongest varieties, such as the habanero, should only be handled while wearing gloves.
Generally, a chili pepper is cut in half lengthwise and the seeds removed. It is then rinsed as an extra precaution. It is cut into strips or cooked whole, depending on the recipe.
Some of the heat can be removed, if necessary, by soaking the chili pepper in a mixture of vinegar and salt (75% / 25%). The heat increases during cooking and so it is often necessary to remove the chili pepper before the end of the cooking time.
Chili powder should be used with caution. It is better to add little and then add more later, after tasting the dish.
Some chili peppers are essential ingredients in certain recipes, such as the nyora in Romanesco sauce, paprika in goulash, jalapeno in salsa cruda, and Espelette pepper in Piperade and in many other dishes of the Basque Country, etc. In the West Indies, where the habanero is widelyused, it is customary to rub products with it before cooking them.
Chili peppers are not only used for their heat, but also for the flavors they provide later, once the heat has passed: chocolate, fruit, smoke, or apricot for the habanero. Each variety of chili pepper has its own specific flavors.
All chili peppers are exceptionally rich in vitamin C and antioxidants.
Capsaicin, which is responsible for their hot taste, seems to lower high cholesterol and reduce blood pressure. It is also thought to protect the stomach lining.
The chili pepper has a solid reputation as an aphrodisiac, which has not yet been verified by medical studies.
Sufferers of colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, or hemorrhoids, are advised to avoid chili peppers.
Drinking water will not help in the event of eating food that is too spicy: the capsaicin is not soluble in water but in fats. It is better to eat a piece of cheese.
Chili peppers are classified according to their strength, from sweet to very strong, measured using the Scoville scale in degrees of heat, 1 through 10, related to the amount of capsaicin present.
Sweet chili peppers (0–2)
Apart from the bell pepper, this includes:
. Aji dulce or Rocotillo or Cachucha: small, round, flat, shaped like a spinning top, sometimes longer (Venezuela, Caribbean, Dominican Republic, Cuba).
. Anaheim or California chili or New Mexico pepper: fleshy, long (15–25 cm), green or red, fresh. Dried, it is sometimes called Colorado Chile.
. Cubanelle: long, 10–20 cm, bumpy surface, similar to the bell pepper, yellow or red when ripe. (New Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic).
. Paprika (Hungary), Pimenton de Murcia (Spain, PDO), sweet Pimenton de la Vera (smoked) or Choricero (Spain). They belong to the same variety.
. Peperoncino (Italy): small, red or green, short or long, round or oval.
. Sweet cherry chili or sweet cherry pepper: small red fruit, round.
. Tomato pepper: round fruit, ribbed, red, delicate flesh.
Medium chili peppers (3–5)
. Fresno or Caribe or Cera: conical, 3–4 cm long, orange to red (California, Texas, New Mexico).
. Guajillo: long, curved, 15 cm, dark red, almost brown (Mexico).
. Guindilla: long, 3.5–7 cm, thin, oval, curved, red or green (Spain).
. Jalapeno (or Chipotle when smoked or dried): long, 5–9 cm, flattened tip, green or red when ripe (Mexico, USA).
. Mulato: elongated heart shape, 10–15 cm long, 5–7 cm wide, dark brown, almost black (Mexico).
. Nyora or Nöra or Nour: round, red, small (Catalonia, Spain).
. Pasilla: long, thin, pointed, dark brown. Dried (Mexico).
. Piment d'Espelette PDO: small and long, red, very fragrant (Basque Country, France).
. Piquant d'Algérie: fairly short, pointed, 5–7 cm, green, yellow, red at maturity.
. Poblano or Puebla chili (or chile Ancho when dry), 7–15 cm long/4–8 cm wide, dark green, toasted (Mexico).
. Sucette de Provence: 12 cm long and conical, red. (Provence, France). Fresh.
Hot chili peppers (6–8)
. Aji: elongated, green to red.
. Aji Amarillo (Peru): green, ripe, or dried (then it is brown).
. Aji Cristal (Chile): pale green to yellow then red.
. Aji Panca (Peru: green and dark brown when dry).
. Cascabel: small, round, dark red. When it is dried, the seeds can be heard when the pepper is shaken (Mexico).
. Chile de árbol: small, narrow, red when ripe (Mexico).
. Chimayo: 13–20 cm long, curved, green and red when ripe (New Mexico, southwest U.S.).
. Furila: 16–18 cm long, red when ripe (Spain).
. Lombok: small, elongated, and pointed, red (Indonesia).
. Hot paprika (Hungary) or hot Choricero (Spain): strong versions of the sweet peppers with the same name.
. Pili pili: small, thin, pointed, red (Portugal, Brazil, Angola).
. Hot cherry pepper (Cherry Bomb, Satan Kiss, Bacio di Satana): small red fruit, strong variety of the sweet cherry pepper.
. Serrano: small, elongated, green, then green, yellow, brown, or red when ripe (Mexico, USA).
Very hot chili peppers (9–10)
. Habanero or Lampion Chili or Scotch bonnet or Satan's chili: shaped like a small lantern. The world's strongest (Caribbean, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USA).
. Cayenne pepper: long, red, very pointy (India, China).
. Bird's eye chili or Zozio pepper or Peri-peri or Piri-piri or Malegueta: small, long, pointed, fleshy, red or green. (Central and South America, Thailand, Réunion).
. Prik kee noo or Thai hot or Thai dragon: small, long, green or red (Thailand).
. Rocoto or Manzana or Peron or Caballo: medium, 6–7 cm long, conical, yellow, orange, or red (Andes, Peru, Bolivia).
. Tabasco: long, yellow to bright red (Mexico, Louisiana). Gave its name to the Condiment Tabasco.
. Tepin or Gringo Killer or Bird Pepper: very small, 1 cm long, red, brown (Central and South America).
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