Tracing Heated Roots: How the Beloved Chili Arrived in China

The domesticated chili pepper, Capsicum annuum: It is about the pleasure of pain, a masochistic rush of released endorphins and sweaty upper lips. It is nearly impossible to imagine Sichuan Cuisine (or Indian or Thai) without the humble chili, and yet until 500 years ago, the chili was unknown to chefs in this part of the world.

This venerable spice, the devil’s own, was part of a great global shifting of crops, animals, people (and disease) known as the Columbian Exchange. Starting in the 15th and 16th century, conquerors and explorers from Western Europe took chili peppers, papayas, peanuts, tobacco, tomatoes, corn, and hundreds of other species from the Americas and introduced them to the trade routes of Asia.