by Kate Heyhoe
No food has traveled the globe more thoroughly than the chile pepper. Originally cultivated in Mexico, these pungent pods were called "chilli" by the Aztecs of the region. Perhaps one of Christopher Columbus' most important discoveries, the chile was introduced to Europe by this famous explorer in the 15th Century. Two centuries later, Spanish and Portuguese navigators took the chile plant to Africa, Asia and the Indian islands. The natives in all places immediately embraced the spicy fruit, which drastically changed the existing culinary traditions of their cuisines. Today, it is unimaginable to think of Thai, Mexican or many African foods without the infusion of chile peppers. They are particularly well-liked in hot climates because they tend to make the heart beat faster, causing more sweat and greater cooling.
Literally hundreds of varieties of chiles exist, and the differences between each can be confusing. However, a selected few are commonly used in the various cuisines, and there are also some basic characteristics pertinent to all chiles.
Green vs. Red Chiles
For the most part, green chiles are fresh, while red ones are dried. As with everything concerning chiles, there are a few exceptions to this rule of thumb. All chiles start off as green. As they ripen, they turn red or yellow. Most red chiles are then dried and must be reconstituted in hot liquid before use. But sometimes a chile, such as the jalapeño, habanero or serrano, will become red and still be used in its fresh form. When a green chile ripens and is dried, it takes on a different name. See Types of Chiles for the names of the same chile when it's either green or red.
Recipe: Chipotle Barbecue Sauce
In addition to Mexico, recipes with chiles (or chillis, hot peppers, etc.) can be found in the cuisines of many other countries. Check out Destinations section, or use our Search feature to find chile recipes from around the world.
This page originally published as a Global Gourmet Today column in 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page modified January 2007
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