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Chilli

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The chili pepper is the fruit of plants from the genus Capsicum, members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. In Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and other Asian countries, the word "pepper" is usually omitted.

The substances that give chili peppers their intensity when ingested or applied topically are capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) and several related chemicals, collectively called capsaicinoids.

Chili peppers originated in the Americas. After the Columbian Exchange, many cultivars of chili pepper spread across the world, used in both food and medicine. Chilies were brought to Asia by Portuguese navigators during the 16th century.

India is the world's largest producer, consumer and exporter of chili peppers. Guntur in Andhra Pradesh produces 30% of all the chilies produced in India, and the state of Andhra Pradesh as a whole contributes 75% of India's chili exports.

History

Chili peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500 BC. The most recent research shows that chili peppers were domesticated more than 6000 years ago in Mexico, in the region that extends across southern Puebla and northern Oaxacato southeastern Veracruz, and were one of the first self-pollinating crops cultivated in Mexico, Central and parts of South America.

Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter them (in the Caribbean), and called them "peppers" because they, like black and white pepper of the Piper genus known in Europe, have a spicy hot taste unlike other foodstuffs. Upon their introduction into Europe, chilies were grown as botanical curiosities in the gardens of Spanish and Portuguese monasteries. But the monks experimented with the chili culinary potential and discovered that their pungency offered a substitute for black peppercorns, which at the time were so costly that they were used as legal currency in some countries.

Chilies were cultivated around the globe after Columbus. Diego Álvarez Chanca, a physician on Columbus' second voyage to the West Indies in 1493, brought the first chili peppers to Spain and first wrote about their medicinal effects in 1494.

The spread of chili peppers to Asia was most likely a natural consequence of its introduction to Portuguese traders (Lisbon was a common port of call for Spanish ships sailing to and from the Americas) who, aware of its trade value, would have likely promoted its commerce in the Asian spice trade routes then dominated by Portuguese and Arab traders. Today chilies are an integral part of South Asian and Southeast Asian cuisines.

There is a verifiable correlation between the chili pepper geographical dissemination and consumption in Asia and the presence of Portuguese traders, India and southeast Asia being obvious examples.

The chili pepper features heavily in the cuisine of the Goan region of India, which was the site of a Portuguese colony (e.g., vindaloo, an Indian interpretation of a Portuguese dish). Chili peppers journeyed from India, through Central Asia and Turkey, to Hungary, where they became the national spice in the form of paprika.

An alternate, although not so plausible account (no obvious correlation between its dissemination in Asia and Spanish presence or trade routes), defended mostly by Spanish historians, was that from Mexico, at the time a Spanish colony, chili peppers spread into their other colony the Philippines and from there to India, China, Indonesia. To Japan, it was brought by the Portuguese missionaries in 1542, and then later, it was brought to Korea.

In 1995 archaeobotanist Hakon Hjelmqvist published an article in Svensk Botanisk Tidskrift claiming there was evidence for the presence of chili peppers in Europe in pre-Columbian times.  According to Hjelmqvist, archaeologists at a dig in St Botulf in Lund found a Capsicum frutescens in a layer from the 13th century. Hjelmqvist thought it came from Asia. Hjelmqvist also said that Capsicum was described by the Greek Theophrastus (370–286 BCE) in his Historia Plantarum, and in other sources. Around the first century CE, the Roman poet Martialis (Martial) mentioned "Piperve crudum" (raw pepper) in Liber XI, XVIII, allegedly describing them as long and containing seeds (a description which seems to fit chili peppers - but could also fit the long pepper, which was well known to ancient Romans).

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