Chili peppers, a spicy fruit featured in cuisines around the world, were used in Mexico long before going global, as was the agave-derived distilled drink tequila. This week, the Museum’s Adventures in the Global Kitchen series presents Tequila and Chilies, which will include a conversation with Juan Carlos Aguirre, the executive director of Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture Without Borders. Aguirre, who will be providing samplings of chili-based dishes from across Mexico alongside tequila from Richard Sandoval Restaurants, recently offered a quick history lesson about the ubiquitous chili pepper.
How long has the chili pepper been an integral ingredient in Mexican cooking?
Chili peppers have been used in Mexican cuisine for thousands of years. They were one of the first plants in the region to be “domesticated.”
How did the chili pepper spread throughout the world?
Chili peppers are originally from the Americas and were incorporated into different cuisines around world after the continent was discovered by Europeans. The Philippines and Mexico were once part of the Spanish Empire, and the chili pepper was exported from Mexico to the Philippines and then all over Asia. So its use in Indian, Chinese, Malaysian, and other Asian cuisines actually comes from the Americas.
What’s one of the more surprising ways in which chili peppers have been used?
Before Mexico was conquered, chocolate was the drink of Aztec royalty, and the chocolate had chili pepper in it. Europeans took the chocolate to Europe and added milk and other ingredients to make it sweet.
What is the mission of your organization, Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture Without Borders?
The organization was founded 12 years ago to celebrate and preserve Mexican traditions and pass them on to a new generation. We do different workshops, crafts, music, visual arts, and culinary arts. The idea is that through the arts, people will learn about Mexico in a more authentic way.