17 Feb

Chili: 6,000-year-old seasoning?

Scientists found fossil evidence that ancient Americans from southern Peru up to the Bahamas were cultivating varieties of chilies about 6,000 years ago.

Three University of Calgary researchers, together with international colleagues, have traced the earliest known evidence for the domestication and spread of chili peppers by analyzing starch microfossils recovered from grinding stones, sediments and charred ceramic cookware. Their report is published in the Feb. 16 issue of the journal Science.

The discovery makes chili peppers one of the oldest documented domesticated food sources in the Americas and contributes significantly to the current understanding of ancient agricultural practices in the Americas.

“Some people who have described ancient food ways as being simple will probably have to rethink their ideas because of this work,” said lead researcher Linda Perry of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Early Latin American peoples would have found chili peppers, which are rich in vitamin C, to be an excellent complement to fish and starchier foods like maize, beans, yams, according to the study.

“It’s also an excellent disguiser,” said the University of Calgary’s Raymond. “If something’s not tasting quite right, you can always throw a few chilies in the pot.”

Christopher Columbus brought the chili pepper to Europe after his discovery of the Americas, and the fiery fruit quickly became a favored condiment across the globe.

Now the hunt is on for the first site of homegrown chilies. It can’t be Ecuador, too far from where wild chilies flourish in Bolivia and Brazil.

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One Response to “Chili: 6,000-year-old seasoning?”

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