Chiltepin - Chilli of the Month
The Origins of Chillies
Chiltepin: The Original Chilli
A chilli pepper that grows wild in parts of Mexico, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, the chiltepin is widely believed to be the oldest form in the Capsicum annuum species, earning it the nickname, “mother of all peppers”.
This pepper is known by several different names including chiltepe, chiltepillo, chile tepin, chile de Chiapas, chile parado, chiltepec, chile del monte, totocuitlatl, pico de paloma, pajaro pequeno, pico de pajaro, chilpaya, diente de tlacuache, tlilchilli, bird peppers and bird’s eye, the last two because of they are widely consumed and spread by wild birds. No other chilli variety has as many names as the Chiltepin chilli.
These chillies are most intimately connected with Sonora, a region in the Northern Mexico, which is considered as their birth place. In Sonora, this variety is in fact a marker of the region’s cultural identity and is used in a variety of dishes in its green form. It is equally well loved when ripe, both in the fresh and dried forms.
The pods are added to sherry and vinegar to develop even more flavours. Chilli enthusiasts are often seen carrying a can of dried chiltepin as an emergency supply so that wherever they go, they know they can always spice up any dish that is too bland for their chilli-loving tastebuds.
Physical Characteristics of the Chiltepin Pepper
The Chiltepin peppers are tiny and slightly ellipsoidal in shape. The pods have a diameter that is about .31 to .8 cm. Some of the variants have an almost perfect round shape when fresh. Whether they started off perfectly round or slightly ellipsoidal, all the pods appear round when they are dry.
Heat Levels of the Chiltepin
These peppers have extremely high heat levels, measuring between 50,000 and 100,000 Scoville Units on the heat scale. There is an ongoing debate as to this chilli’s potential to be hotter than the Red Savina and the habanero. One of the reasons why there is no definitive answer is that the heat of the pods varies greatly from one year to the next.
This is because chiltepins are harvested from the wild stands in the Mexican desert so the heat levels of the pod is greatly affected by the amount of rain that falls during the time that the fruits are getting formed. The highest levels of heat are produced when the rainfall is normal to heavy whereas drought year tend to produce fruits that have low to weak heat levels.
Hot for Health
Beneficial Uses of Chiltepins
Ever since it was first introduced to them so many centuries ago, the Mexicans have been exploring its many uses not only in their cuisine but also from the medicinal perspective. Through the years, new benefits have been discovered and the chiltepin is now used as much for its health benefits and as a food preservative as it is used as a flavouring agent not just in Mexico but also in several other cultures.
The Mayo Indians prepared a liniment to relieve rheumatism pain by mixing together alcohol with chiltepin leaves. The natives of Pima Bayo chewed on the fruit to relieve stomach disorders and the Tarahumara Indians used chiltepins to get rid of a headache.
It is the high levels of capsaicin in the plan that makes it so effective as a painkiller. When ingested, the capsaicin causes the brain to release endorphins, which act as natural painkillers.
Spreading The Chiltepin
The chiltepin plant reproduces by dispersing its seeds but because the seeds are so heavy, they need a carrier to do the job for them. The question that begs to be asked then is why would a tree that needs an animal or a bird to help it reproduce make its fruit so unpalatable? The answer to that is the plant is very choosy. The seeds may be heavy but they are not hard enough to protect themselves from being crushed by a mammal’s big, strong teeth, so if the peppers were palatable to animals, all that would happen is that they would get eaten but the seeds would be crushed and useless for regeneration purposes.
Birds on the other hand do not have the teeth to crush the seeds, so when they eat the fruit, the seeds pass through wholly into their digestive system. These seeds are then deposited along with a little natural fertilizer at a place some distance away from the mother plant. This is a much more effective way for the plant to spread its seeds all over the land and that also explains a whole lot about why the chiltepin’s is called ‘bird’s eye chilli’ and it also explains the large tracts of land teeming with dense growths of chiltepin chilli plants.