The Mexican Store. The Dried Chili peppers. Their origins and other stories.
By José Fernández
sep 28TH, 2020
For more than five centuries the Chili peppers has been a food source for Mexicans; the various pre-Hispanic cultures, including the Mexica, Teotihuacan and Zapotec, immortalized his image in codices and glyphs made on stone. Currently, it continues to be a primary ingredient in Mexican meals, being present in up to 90% of its dishes either directly, chopped or sliced, or as the main ingredient in sauces, marinades, moles and dressings.
The Chili peppers in Mexico is also a symbol of identity, it is the flavor that unites the family, and it is the crop that prevails in their lands.
The Chili pepper “Chile” comes from the Nahuatl word “Chilli”, it is par excellence the representative and identity food of Mexico and it is by far the country that consumes it worldwide and has the largest variety of Chili peppers, whether fresh or whole and ground dried Chili peppers, thanks to its different climatic and geographical conditions, which allow practically all corners of the Republic to cultivate a species.
Types of Mexican Chiles Peppers
The consumption of this product is so recurrent in Mexico because it produces a certain pleasure when eating, since dopamines are released, which are hormones or substances that help enjoyment, so it is easy to understand why 90% of the dishes contain it.
It is well known that the hottest Chili pepper produced in Mexico is the habanero, which is grown mainly in Yucatán, Baja California Sur, San Luis Potosí, Chiapas, Sonora, Tabasco and Veracruz, which contrary to what is believed does not come from Havana, Cuba, although it is possible that it owes its name to that city, this type of chili comes from the Amazon region, via trade it reached the Caribbean and with it to Havana, from where perhaps it got its name; later it arrived in Mexico, where it was mainly adopted to the Yucatecan lands and dishes.
For its part, there is the “chipilín” Chili pepper, also known as piquín, it is the one that continues to be spicy; its production is in Sonora and Sinaloa. This one stands out because it has not been domesticated, that is, it cannot be grown in a greenhouse, it occurs only naturally, which makes it one of the most expensive.
The least spicy are the “poblano” Chili pepper, which is produced in Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí, Durango, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco and Puebla; and especially the bell pepper, which, although it originated in Spain, is currently cultivated in Sinaloa and Sonora, and as it matures its color changes in tone, from green to red, passing through yellow and orange.
Mexican Chiles throughout history
Chili pepper has been the nutritional base since ancient times, the oldest evidence found so far of seeds in Mexico refers to the Coxcatlán cave, in the Tehuacán region, Puebla, where archaeologists discovered chili remains from between 6900 and 5000 BC.
Also Chili peppers were beneficial for nomadic groups of hunter-gatherers, due to their properties that retard the decomposition of food, a very useful quality for their way of life that implied the constant movement and the total use of food, especially of the meat.
It should be noted that some codices make reference to the importance of this product for various pre-Hispanic cultures, including the Mendocino and Florentine cultures, which illustrate how children were punished by making them inhale the smoke from the Chili peppers thrown on bonfires; as well as the reference to the Mexica festival Huey Tozoztli in which food was offered, among them chile, to Chicomecóatl, goddess of maintenance.
Also, in the Yanhuitlán Codex is the image of stored Chili peppers, which refers to the colonial crops of the inhabitants of Oaxaca, in the lands of Gonzalo de las Casas, the site's manager.
Chili pepper was one of the products that the Triple Alliance formed by Tenochtitlan, Tacuba and Texcoco demanded from its tributaries, for example, to the Huasteca provinces that delivered between 400 and 800 bundles.
It is also known that it was used as payment to pre-Hispanic artists; It was also used as a product of exchange in markets such as Tlatelolco or Pátzcuaro.
Although the iconographic evidences are few, the figure of this food has appeared in some pre-Hispanic vestiges, such as in one of the tombstones of Building J of the Archaeological Zone of Monte Alban, Oaxaca, which show peoples apparently conquered by the Zapotec capital between 150 BC and 150 AD Another example is the remains of braziers located in 2005 in a ceramic workshop in Teotihuacan, which are Chili pepper-shaped molds.
A similar case is the images from the Mendocino Codex, allusive to places like Chilapan (river of Chili peppers) today Chilapa, Guerrero, and Chilecpictlan (chilar de chiltepiquines) currently Tepintla, Puebla. In the same way, in the Lienzo de Citlaltépec, where events of the Mixtec manor Citlaltépec-Metlatónoc are narrated, the glyph of the Chilixtlahuaca site (in the plain of Chili pepper) is shown which is located in the Mountain region, on the limits of Oaxaca and Guerrero, Enrique Vela comments in his writing.
The arrival of Christopher Columbus, he called the chili pepper from the Indies, due to its strong flavor that he compared with pepper. During the Conquest, in the 16th century, the Spanish named it “ají” and used it to season meats; Later they took it to Spain to cultivate it and when it adapted to those lands it lost its characteristic feature: the hotness, turning into the sweet chili known as bell pepper.
Likewise, the chili pepper has been immersed in ancient narratives such as a Totonac version, El Niño del Maíz, who after infinite mishaps becomes a deer, “the infant withdraws from the world and when saying goodbye to his mother leaves him, in addition to the corn, two drops of blood: the tomato blooms from one and the chili peppers grow from the other ”.
Furthermore, in the Popol Vuh it is said that the Hero Twins asked their grandmother to prepare a broth with chili for them, this to recover the trappings of the ball game that had hidden from them; Meanwhile, in the chronicle Historia General de las cosas de la Nueva España, Fray Bernardino de Sahagún tells that the god Tezcatlipoca disguised himself as a seller of chili peppers to enamor the daughter of Huémac, Toltec lord.
The Mexica rendered devotion to Tlatlauhqui cihuatlichilzintli, goddess of the "Red Chilito", sister of Tláloc (god of the rain) and Chicomecóatl; in turn, the Zapotecs of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca worshiped Losio, lawyer of the sowing and chili.
Thanks to the fact that The Mexican Store team is in love with Mexican gastronomy, we wanted to share a little of what the magic behind Mexican products is, do not hesitate to visit our site www.latiendamexicana.es/en/ and if you have any question we contact through our live chat.