Saudi Aramco World: March/April 2014 - page 10

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Saudi Aramco World
Capsicum peppers went by many names when they were
first introduced. They were known as Pernambuco pepper
after a Portuguese settlement in Brazil, or Calicut pepper after
an important spice port in India, but also went by the native
name
aji,
axi
or, in India,
achi
. In Java the Portuguese called
them Spanish peppers, as Germany and Sweden still do.
Chile,
an Aztec Nahuatl word, came to be used later.
In 1984, historian C. R. Boxer suggested that the
Portuguese merchant ships that carried black pepper from
Goa to Lisbon might have
brought capsicums back to India on
their return voyages. Jean Andrews wrote that some thin dried
capsicum peppers are still referred to as
kappal molokai
in
Calicut—“pepper from the ship.”
Sixteenth-century botanist Matthias de Lobel suggested the
Portuguese were exporting capsicums from Goa early in the
16th century, as well as black pepper: Capsicums existed in
Indonesia by 1510, and pepper authority Dave de Witt says
capsicums were growing in the Azores, Madeira and Cape
Verde by 1516, as well as along the west coast of Africa, where
Portugal had established forts and trading posts. Then, with
help from the Persians, Turkey and Portugal reached détente
in the 1550’s, and the spice route was open again. Surely
capsicum peppers were traded in the newly accessible Middle
Eastern markets, with sailors the likely merchants.
It wasn’t just the Portuguese doing the spreading. Venice
was still trading with Europe and most of the Muslim world.
Spain, Portugal and the Ottoman Empire continually fought
and traded, and trade and military engagements from India
to North Africa assured interaction between nations as
ships were captured and cargos redistributed by the victors.
When Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Lawgiver (called “the
Magnificent” in Europe) drove through the Balkans and
conquered Hungary in 1526, capsicum peppers came too, in
the gardens that his army planted to feed the troops, and
though the Ottomans eventually left, the capsicums stayed.
By 1569, a Hungarian aristocrat listed
Türkisch rot Pfeffer
(Turkish red pepper) among the plants in her garden, and
in no time at all paprika, a
Capsicum annuum
variety, had
conquered Hungarian cuisine at all economic levels. In his
1963 book on paprika, Hungarian historian Zoltan Halasz
Developmental psychologist Jason Goldman said, “Hot pepper consumption
has a positive effect on your mental and physical health. When you eat a hot
pepper, pain receptors in your mouth react with the capsaicin. This reaction
also triggers an endorphin release…. This endorphin release produces a natural
high that resembles a “runner’s high.” This overall feeling ofwell-being also
might act as a natural pain reliever if you are suffering frombody pain.”
Dried chiles shipped well worldwide.
From left:
New World Capsicum annuum varieties include guajillo, ancho and New Mexico; a smaller
Capsicum frutescens variety called “birdseye” chiles spread wild in Africa after birds spread their seeds from early gardens, and they are
now common also in Southeast Asia; “Indian” chiles are among the most common varieties in India, which today grows and exports more
chiles than any other nation.
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