Chili pepper of Calabria

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Chili pepper of Calabria

Calabria will never cease to thank Christopher Columbus, who returned from his second voyage to America in 1463 with chili pepper plants. Historical evidence suggests that as early as 5,500 BC, it was known in Mexico and Chile. In Europe, it found a suitable climate throughout the Mediterranean basin, as well as in Africa and Asia. Calabria, in particular, can be said to have become its homeland in no time. Traces of chili pepper can be found in historiography as far back as 1635, thanks to the Calabrian philosopher Tommaso Campanella. In his work “Medicinalium Iuxta Propria Principia,” he described the beneficial properties of “Piper rubrum indicum.” By that time, chili pepper had already spread among all levels of society, especially among the less affluent who used it for food preservation and as a trading commodity.

 

The chili pepper plant belongs to the Capsicum genus, the same as sweet peppers, in the Solanaceae family. It thrives in specific weather conditions and prefers sandy and clayey soil. It is planted every year between January and February in sunny locations that can be well-watered and where the temperature never drops below 5°C at night. Harvesting, on the other hand, takes place between August and September, as the fruits only ripen with the summer sun. The Diavolicchio di Diamante is one of the most cultivated varieties in Calabria, and it is the classic and most represented variety in magazines and journals. Another well-known type, known as “pipazza,” is the Roggianese pepper: a local variety grown near Roggiano Gravina, a small village in the Val di Crati. The spiciness of chili peppers is due to the alkaloid capsaicin, which gives the sensation of “burning” when it comes into contact with taste buds. It boasts antibacterial effects, allowing foods cooked with chili peppers to be preserved longer. Chili peppers are rich in vitamin C and have a recognized antioxidant power, as well as showing some efficacy in treating colds, sinusitis, and bronchitis. Additionally, the “burning” sensation of chili peppers aids digestion and has pain-relieving properties in combating arthritis and neuropathies. The pain sensation produced by capsaicin stimulates the brain to produce endorphins, a natural opioid that acts as an analgesic. Among the other beneficial effects of chili peppers, their often-claimed aphrodisiac power has never actually been scientifically confirmed. In Calabria, it is customary to eat chili peppers raw, pickled, dried, or processed into creams and spicy cured meats (such as ‘nduja, sausage, soppressata, or spianata), but also in pasta, on meat, and more recently, it is often found paired with some desserts.

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