The people of Mexico, South, and Central America have been enjoying chilies since at least 7500 BC. Chilis were discovered by Europeans when Columbus landed in the Caribbean. He called them peppers since they tasted like the peppercorns he knew in Spain. In the Americas, these fruits are still called chilies.
In 1493, chilies were taken to Spain by Columbus’ physician, Diego Alvarez Chanca. In under a year, he wrote of their amazing medicinal qualities. Chiles were grown in the monasteries in Spain, where the monks used them in recipes instead of the expensive peppercorns.
Capsaicin causes the heat in chilies. An alkaloid, it causes pain and inflammation in your mouth if you eat more than you should. This will release endorphins from the brain, to soothe the heat and make you feel good. This is why many people like to try extremely hot chilies. They like the effect of the endorphins. On the other hand, capsaicin is also used in pepper sprays that are used in self-defense weapons and crowd control weapons.
Chiles can be purchased canned, roasted, fresh, smoked, or dried. With many more than 100 varieties available, you can experiment to see what you like best. Chiles, like most fruits, carry their seeds inside them. Some may also have a fruity flavor once you are finished with the heat. Some may taste of nuts, raisins, or apricot.
Each Mexican food recipe needs the right chili to make it taste authentic. Each variety of chili has a different effect on a recipe. Find out what kind is recommended for your recipe and get the proper chilies so you get the intended results when you cook.
If you find your mouth overwhelmed while enjoying your chilies, drink milk to quench the fire. Water and other beverages do not cool the heat. Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and sour cream are very effective, however. This is why many Mexican recipes have dairy-based sauces or side dishes. Rice or bread can also soak up the capsaicins, cooling down your mouth.
Be very careful when you work with chilies. Gloves will help protect your skin, since capsaicin can cause irritating burns. Do not accidentally rub your eyes while chopping chilies, either. Any bit of capsaicin can give you a very painful experience when it gets near your eyes. Wash up with care. Protective eyewear is not out of place when working with chilies.
There are several common chilies used throughout Mexico. The ancho is a mild, flavorful chili with hints of raisins, coffee, and licorice. Another mild chili used frequently is the Anaheim. It is often served with stuffing inside. Cayennes are a hotter chili that is often dried and powdered. It is used to season stews and many other recipes. Chipotles are growing in popularity. In reality, they are jalapenos that are dried and smoked. This gives them a lot more flavor and depth that they transfer to any dish. They are easily found dried or in cans.
Mexican food history begins long before anyone else knew anything about the indigenous groups living in Mexico. They took the local foods and made the most from them. Drinks made from chocolate and vanilla were mixed and sweetened with honey.