According to new research, the chili pepper has been found to be the oldest spice in use in the Americas, and one of the oldest in the world. Described in a February 2006 report in the journal Science, the research findings provide details about early plant cultivation and the use of chili peppers for food and ceremonial purposes.
• Peppers are in the botanical family Solanaceae, an edible family flowering plants like tomatoes, eggplant and tobacco.
• The research shows that the study of microscopic starch granules stuck in the crevices of cooking implements and in bowl-scrapings can reveal foods that originally weren't thought to have enough starch in them to be traceable.
• "The usual idea is that the tropical lowlands were mostly on the receiving end, that they were not areas of innovation. Now our findings are beginning to cast doubt on that," said J. Scott Raymond, an archaeologist at the University of Calgary.
• Chili peppers are thought to have been domesticated at least five times by prehistoric peoples in different parts of South, Central and North America.
• Chili peppers have been part of the human diet in the Americas since about 7500 BC.
• Evidence of chili peppers at archealogical sites in the Americas show they may have been domesticated over 6,000 years ago.
• Within decades of European contact, the New World chili pepper was carried across Europe and into Africa and Asia, adopted widely, and further altered through selective breeding.
• They are now grown around the world and are widely used as medicine, and as or vegetables in cuisine. The chili pepper is an essential cooking ingredient in places as diverse as Hungary, Ethiopia, and China.
• Chili peppers offer truly powerful medicine for boosting circulation, dilating blood vessels, enhancing oxygenation of tissues and protecting the cardiovascular system.
• For as long as chili peppers have been cultivated for food, they've also been used as medicine around the world. South American Indians, North American Indians and even Asian cultures all prized chili peppers for their observable medicinal effects.
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