What Are the Origins of the Chilli?
The chilli is often associated with Mexico, and although there is little historical evidence to support the theory, we still talk about “Mexican Chilli Beef” or “Mexican Chicken Chilli”. In fact, the chilli is thought to have originated in the US, where it was first cooked by the poorest people in society to eke out a small amount of meat by bulking it up with peppers. Despite the history, Mexican luxury chilli sets and Mexican chilli selections are widely available and very popular today.
One American Indian legend claims that the first chilli con carne recipe was written by “the lady in blue”. This ghostly lady was believed to be Sister Mary of Agreda, a Spanish nun who was prone to going into trances for days at a time. Although she did not leave Spain physically, she claimed that her spirit had been far away. When she “returned” from a trance, she wrote a recipe which included chilli peppers, antelope meat or venison, onions and tomatoes.
Many tales abound regarding the invention and history of the chilli in the USA, but it does seem to originate from the area around San Antonio, having been brought as a kind of traditional spicy stew by settlers from Spain. From the 1880s, Latino women known as Chilli Queens sold chilli stew from open-air stalls in the Military Plaza, and this continued until 1937, when hygiene regulations forced them out of business.
The pungency of chillis is measured on the Scoville scale, developed by Wilbur Scoville, an American pharmacist, in 1912. According to the Manchester Evening News, the hottest chilli in the world is now the Carolina Reaper, which measures between 1.5m and 2.2m on the Scoville Scale.
Cooking with Chillis
There are many recipes calling for chillis, but it can be difficult to tell how hot they are, so it is often a good idea to buy chillis online. Companies such as Jimmy Ginger provide plenty of information about the different types of chilli they have available, so adding them to a recipe is a more precise science than simply guessing how pungent they will be. As well as the spicy heat, chillis have individual flavours that can sometimes be overwhelmed by injudicious use.
Chillis are more popular in the UK today than ever before.