O’ Capsicum, my Capsicum – Chiles

I’ve completed three recipes for squash and it’s time to move along (I know, I know, Ipromised one more pumkpin pie recipe. It’s on the way). Checking the Food Timeline, I see that next on the research mill is a topic to which I’ve been looking forward: Chiles.

Chiles are a food that draws a great deal of passion from people. Finding sites that deal with the little peppers was no problem at all. It’s quite difficult to imagine people working a similar obsession over, say, cucumbers.

Chiles are members of the nightshade family, and are the fruits of the plant Solanaceae Capsicum. There are literally hundreds of species that fall under this classification, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to try them all. Lucky for us, there’s an obsessive pepper fan who has created the chile pepper database to document the different varieties. I’m continually amazed at the things one can find on the internet.

The peppers have been around for quite some time. Evidence of their existance has been dated back to around 7000 BC, while proof of domestication of the plant has been noted to be around 5200 BC. This took place over on this side of the world in the Western Hemisphere. Capsicum was domesticated at least five times by prehistoric peoples in different parts of South and Middle America.

It was Columbus who introduced the plant to the rest of the world, where it quickly took off in popularity. Today you can find variations of the plant being grown in New Mexico, Central and South American, Italy, Thailand, China, and dozens of other locations worldwide.

Chiles also are mired in a tiny bit of a controversy as well. Currently there are 5 tastes that are generally recognized – sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and savory (umami). The question is: where does the taste of peppers fit in to these categories, specifically those varieties that carry a bit of heat in them? It’s a good question. The pungency of the plants are produced by capsaicinoids, alkaloid compounds that are found only in Capsicums.

But it is not my place to answer such questions of yet. It is my place to find out as much as I can about these plants and how they fit into food culture. Color me one happy person.

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