El chile, una herencia gastronómica

Chili, a gastronomic heritage

Donzabor Mèxico

This fruit identifies us throughout the world; it has contributed to the cultural richness of countries like China, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, Hungary... and the list goes on.

An adventure in the mouth

They say that Mexicans who respect themselves, ask for the spicy one, and if you have eaten in the company of a foreigner who is not used to chili, the question they usually ask is why do we like to suffer? The reality, according to different scientific studies, is that just as we enjoy the feeling of danger when getting on a mechanical game, jumping out of a plane in flight, the feeling of fear and anxiety when watching a horror movie, we also enjoy the heat of chili the same way.

The brain has receptors for different sensations: the one that perceives the "pain" caused by eating spicy foods is called TRPV1 and its function is to prevent us from making bad decisions such as touching or eating something that can burn and hurt us. Our brain perceives that eating chili gives us the same effect as if we were really burning ourselves.

In short, if we like to suffer. Although consuming chili can really cause irritation and pain, it does not cause significant harm to someone healthy, so is not reason enough to stop eating it, quite the opposite: it reminds us that we are alive.

How did it get into our kitchen?

What for us is a common culinary adventure, is for chili a complex evolutionary event. That pungent sensation prevents mammals from eating it; however, the birds do not perceive it. Thanks to the latter, these fruits have been able to prosper, because unlike mammals (including humans) birds do not chew them, dispersing the seeds and allowing them to germinate in varied territories. It is speculated that the non-domesticated varieties of the genus Capsicum originated in the Andean region or in some part of Brazil, and that thanks to the birds they eventually reached Mesoamerica.

It is not known exactly where it came from; what is certain is that it was domesticated about 6,000 years ago. The Mexicas used it in the kitchen of course, but it also had various uses in daily life, they fumigated the home with their smoke, cured diseases and even punished naughty children and young people with the aroma of smoked chili peppers. It was even used as payment to artists and as a product of exchange in pre-Hispanic markets.

From Mexico to the rest of the world

We know that many of the traditional ingredients of pre-Hispanic Mexican cuisine arrived in Spain after the conquest, and after that they gradually traveled other routes. The chili has a slightly more interesting history. Before the Spaniards arrived in America, they had a very valuable spice that they even used to pay salaries and called it black gold; the pepper.

In the 1400s, the Ottoman Empire blocked trade routes between India and Europe, so Christopher Columbus undertook the journey in search of new routes to that country. Far from reaching India, it reached the Americas, where it did not find its precious black gold, but something much more pungent. He knew the chiles , which we called “chilli” or “xilli” in Nahuatl, and he renamed them pepper, because it had a sensation similar to the heat of black gold.

The chili was not as successful in Europe (not as it is today, at least), but eventually Portuguese explorers and conquerors distributed this and other products of Mexican origin to their Asian, African and American colonies in India , for example, was easily adopted by cooks, as they already used ingredients with a certain level of pungency, such as ginger and pepper.

Today, it is common to find varieties of chilies like the Mexican ones in the Asian markets of European cities: being Mexican, a visit to a store in the "China town" of any big city is enough to feel curiously closer to home.

Chili in North America

We might believe that chili moved like other Mexican ingredients to the north of our continent through established trade routes, but it was not. Although there were already wild varieties of it in the southern part of what is now the United States, it was not eaten or cultivated in this area.

It was not until the ships with African slaves arrived in the United States that it began to be cultivated by them, since they had already adopted its use thanks to the Europeans who introduced the various varieties of chilies to Africa. It was also eventually adapted into the recipes that are part of American cuisine thanks to these immigrants.

Our heritage

There are currently more than 60 varieties of chili in our country, which are consumed fresh, cooked, dehydrated, smoked, in vinegar, as a main ingredient or as a condiment, but their importance goes far beyond their gastronomic uses modern; Together with corn, beans and squash, it was the basis of our diet in Mesoamerican cultures.

Cococ, cocopathic and cocopalatic; In these Nahuatl terms, chili was classified in pre-Hispanic times according to the level of itching, hot, very hot and extremely hot. In ancient Tenochtitlan they were grown mostly in chinampas and it was intensively developed by the Mexicas, as one of their main vegetables.

Today, the main producers are the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Guanajuato, Zacatecas and Sonora and they grow mostly jalapeño, serrano, poblano, bell pepper and habanero. Chili production in Mexico is around 3 million tons per year, of which it exports 500,000 tons per year of fresh chili and 60,000 of dried chili, mainly to the United States and Europe, although we have a lot of competition; we are the sixth largest producer worldwide.

Despite not taking the crown in terms of production, we can affirm that chili is one of the products that has elevated our cuisine to the point of being Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and that it has become a essential part of our life.

Can you imagine a life without that unique flavor in our daily food? We definitely don't. That's why we recommend you always have dried chiles in your pantry, and what better than quality Don Zabor? You can find our products at any Walmart, Superama, Bodega Aurrera, H-E-B, laComer, CityClub and Alsuper.