Chilli has been used to spice up food since at least 400BCE, new research from Mexico shows.
Researchers analysed fine scrapings from inside 13 different pottery types excavated in Chiapa de Corzo in southern Mexico, dating from 400BCE to 300CE. Ultra-perfomance liquid chromatography revealed the presence of Capsicum species in 5 of the pottery vessels, but no cocoa, indicating it was not to create the spiced chocolate drink favoured several hundred years later in Pre-Colombian times.
The researchers postulate that the chilli preparations were for consumption as a beverage or paste, but whether for religious ritual, pharmaceutical or everyday culinary use is unknown. One of the vessels, a spouted jar, is identifiably a pouring vessel, so it was not just for storing chilli peppers.
One other possible explanation is that the jars were coated inside with a chilli-ash mixture to repel insects from spoiling the vessel’s contents.
Citation: Powis TG, Gallaga Murrieta E, Lesure R, Lopez Bravo R, Grivetti L, et al. (2013) Prehispanic Use of Chili Peppers in Chiapas, Mexico. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79013. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079013