Borough Market, London, 1860

Chiles Around the World, 1889

Dave DeWitt Chile History Leave a Comment

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This seems to be one of the few historical worldwide surveys of chiles and their consumption globally. It is interesting for several reasons. First, it is the first debunking of the notion that chile seeds are hot that I have ever found; second, it reports on adulterated cayenne, a problem in India, England, and the U.S. for centuries; and third, it places chiles within the context of worldwide cuisines. It is from Tropical Agriculture: A Treatise on the Culture, Preparation, Commerce and Consumption of the Principal Products of the Vegetable Kingdom, by Peter Lund Simmonds. London: E. & F. N. Spon, 1889.

Borough Market, London, 1860Chillies And Cayenne Pepper. The Cayenne pepper of commerce is obtained chiefly from the pulverised chillies or fruit pods of one or two species of capsicum (Capsicum annuum, Lin., and C. fastigiatum, Blume). But a very large number of species and varieties of capsicum are grown and used as condiments in all tropical countries, where there appears to be a greater necessity for pungent seasonings.

The generic botanical name of Capsicum is derived from “kapto,” to bite, on account of the hot pungent qualities of the pericarp.

Among the principal species grown may be named the following: —The cherry pepper or round chilli (Capsicum cerasiforme, Willd.); the bonnet pepper (C. tetragonum, Mill.) ; the bell pepper (C. grossum, Lin.); the spice or goat pepper (C. frutescens, Lin.); and the bird pepper (C. baccatum, Lin., or C. fastigiatum). The last-named two are more acrimonious than the others. The fruits of these several species are of various forms—round, oblong, cordate or horned, and either scarlet or yellow; in some varieties they are so little pungent as to be used sliced in salad, in others they are intolerably biting till the mouth becomes accustomed to them by habit. The acrid resin (capsicine) in the fruit renders them hot, pungent and stimulating. Contrary to general opinion it has been found on analysis that the seeds after removal of the pericarp, and thoroughly washing and drying them, are entirely devoid of acridity and pungency.

Red pepper may be termed one of the most useful condiments in hygiene. As a stimulant and auxiliary in digestion it has been considered invaluable, especially in warm countries. There are always a few of these shrubby plants grown about the dwellings in the tropics to supply the daily wants of the table, as they are generally gathered and eaten just before fully ripe.

Unfortunately, in England, Cayenne pepper is very frequently adulterated, and hence reliance can only be placed on purchasing from respectable wholesale houses, which have a reputation and character for probity and the sale of genuine articles. Venetian red, red ochre and cinnabar are often added to darken the colour, although this is no sign of its excellence, for the Nepal and many other Cayenne peppers are extremely light-coloured, as they will naturally be if made with the ground seeds alone unmixed with the redder husks of the fruit capsule. As Cayenne pepper when obtained pure and used in moderation promotes digestion and so prevents flatulence, and is hence undoubtedly serviceable to persons of languid digestion, so if adulterated with poisonous substances it is calculated to be highly injurious.

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