By Oscar Quiroz
All species of the genus Capsicum are native to America. The pre-Columbian distribution of this genus probably extended from the southernmost edge of the United States to the warm temperate zone of southern South America. Regarding its origin, one of the most accepted hypotheses suggests that an important portion of the genus capsicum originated in a “core area” in south-central Bolivia, with subsequent migration to the Andes and the lowlands of the Amazon. Together with pumpkin, corn and beans, chili formed the basis of food for the cultures of Mesoamerica. According to specialists, chili is originally from Mexico. Archaeological evidence has allowed us to estimate that this product was cultivated from 7000 to 2555 a. C. in the regions of Tehuacán, Puebla, and in Ocampo, Tamaulipas. Also in the opinion of the naturalists, Chile was originally from America, and Alexander Von Humboldt, during his trip to Mexico in 1803, considered it as a Mexican national plant, as expressed in his work entitled “Political essay on the kingdom of the New Spain ”, where he says: “The different species of peppers, which Mexicans call Chilli, are a fruit as indispensable to the natives as salt to whites.”
In Mexico, the word “chile”, from Nahuatl “chilli” or “xilli”, is used to refer to any fruit classified within the Capsicum genus. In South America they called it “chili pepper”, a term that the Spaniards adopted and used from colonial times to the present. The history of Chile is linked to the history of America. If you keep in mind that the main objective of those trips of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries was to obtain spices, it is not surprising then that the unexpected Capsicum has immediately had a successful acceptance and rapid dissemination among the inhabitants of the Old Continent, unlike from other edible plants from America that took decades to be adopted by Europeans. When Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztec empire, in 1521, the consumption of some chiles, whose seeds were brought there almost 30 years before by Columbus and his sailors, began to become popular in southern Spain.
Chili is one of the crops native to Mexico and the most important worldwide. Its different varieties adapt to different climates and soil types, which has contributed to its successful and wide geographical distribution. The multiple uses of chili and its derivatives date from pre-Hispanic times and go beyond forming an extraordinary condiment now worldwide.