The first thing you think of when mentioning Mexican food is how spicy it is. Of course, it is not all hot, however, the use of chili peppers in the country's gastronomy is well recognized for making it spicy. Chili is very common throughout Mesoamerica but no other country it has the diversity that can be found in Mexico. According to the National System of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (SINAREFI), there are 64 types of mexican chili that grow in the various regions of the country and if we count the Creoles, we may reach 200!
Of the 64 varieties that are found throughout the length and breadth of the republic, 39 of them are cultivated and the rest are wild or semi-cultivated. More than two million tons are produced each year, which places Mexico in the second place in the world for green chili production, after China.
Within the country it is produced in all states but the main ones are Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, and Jalisco, which are the first five in Mexico. The green or fresh chili is separated into producing areas with different varieties between them.
The chilies with the highest production in the country are the jalapeño, poblano and bell pepper. They are followed by the tree, serrano, guajillo, habanero, pasilla and apple tree. It is a nutritious food used in the production of food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic products.
A bit of information
Belonging to the genus CapsicumIt was cultivated since 7000 BC and was very important in the eating habits of Mesoamerican cultures. Although it is known as chili pepper in South America and in Spain, in Mexico the word chili, from Nahuatl chilli or xilli.
It was introduced to the Old Continent by Christopher Columbus and was already known and used in southern Spain when Cortés conquered the Aztecs. In the 15th and 16th centuries, its commercialization was rampant since it was quickly adapted by the Spanish people.
Currently, the chili has undergone genetic improvements that are convenient from a commercial point of view since more can be produced per hectare because they have become less susceptible to various viruses and fungi, the fruit ripens in less time and the result is more uniform in size, color and other characteristics. Although the changes made seem positive, the replacement of landraces by new and "better" chili peppers implies a danger of putting the germplasm of your crops at risk.
The chili is of enormous nutritional importance. The fresh ones are full of vitamin C, having twice and more than the orange or the lemon and almost six times that of the grapefruit. On the other hand, the dried ones contain a quantity of vitamin A, greater than that of the carrot.
In addition, it has been proven to aid in the digestion of corn and beans, through the stimulation of gastric juices. Thus, an integration of highly nutritious elements is formed that reinforces the diet of the peoples of Mesoamerica and not only.
Ay, ay, ay, how it stings!
Its pungency or itching was characterized in Nahuatl as cococ (spicy), cocopatic (very spicy) and cocopalatic (very spicy). It is known that apart from its nutritional importance as well, it was given many different uses as its implement in war where it was thrown dry in the fire to create stinging smoke, implemented to annoy the eyes and noses of the enemy. Although difficult to believe, another use to which it had adapted was pedagogical! Young people who did not behave were punished by putting them to inhale the smoke of burnt chili peppers!
In 1912, the pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, managed to form a method to measure the pungency of chili peppers. It is about diluting a solution of the extract of the fruit in water with sugar several times, until it stops biting. The number of times it is diluted determines the grades it is assigned on the scale of the method that was named by the last name of its creator and is known as the "Scoville Organoleptic Test" or SOT for its acronym in English. Its unit of measurement is known as "SHU".
Because this form of measurement is quite subjective since it is based on the tolerance of the people who performed the tests, other ways have been developed to determine the amount of capsaicin, such as "High Efficiency Liquid Chromatography" (HPLC ) that uses a unit of measurement called “ASTA”, which is related to the Scoville scale, later. 1 ASTA = 15 SHU.
Grow Chili Peppers
Growing chili peppers in Mexico is not that difficult as they grow anywhere that has sun and temperatures between 18ºC and 25ºC. However, in Europe and depending on the latitude of the continent in which you are located, it is very likely that they need protection, especially in winter.
During cold nights or days, it would not hurt to make a little place inside the house to protect them from the cold.If the temperature does not drop so much, to protect them from the wind or because they are not in a pot but in your garden, you can cut some milk or soda cans and reverse them, covering the plants in such a way.
Another factor to which they are sensitive is water and for this reason, it is essential that they have good drainage. If you have a garden, you can mix some sand in the soil which helps a lot.
Your chilitos growing in a pot or garden, they love having a lot of nutrients so you have to add compost to the soil a few weeks before planting them. Choose preferably a fertilizer with a lot of potassium and little nitrogen. If you want, you can do a pH test on the soil to make sure it is slightly acidic with a pH reading of 6.5 to 7.
Something very important to pay attention to is the fact that it is better to sow the seeds indoors and remove the seedlings outdoors when the weather has calmed down and there is no danger of frost. Keep in mind that in the list of chili characteristics that follows, all the suggested times for harvesting have been calculated from transplanting and not from sowing.
Step by step
Before planting them, it is a good idea to soften the seeds by soaking them for 24 hours in a container with warm water or better yet, in chamomile tea "at the time" to speed up germination. Afterwards, the water is strained and they are left to dry for about 10 to 12 hours.
The seeds are sown in small containers filled with the soil already prepared with the fertilizer and compost. It is important that they do not go too deep into the ground. One centimeter of the surface is sufficient.
Now, you give them water so that the earth is always wet. At first they need more water but later, a tablespoon is enough. Find them a place in the sun and that is hot. If you have a heating lamp, it would help them a lot to grow faster.
Be patient and watch your containers. In a few days to a few weeks, depending on the seed, you will see its bloom! First, a pair of leaves known as "seed leaves" come out and after a while, another pair of leaves comes out, the "true leaves". Your plants can already be transplanted although, if it is still cold, it would be better to wait so that no frost hits them.
As a suggestion and for your seedlings to gain strength, it is better to train them. Put your containers outside for a couple of hours over several days, adding an hour to each day until they can last 24 hours outdoors. Afterwards, they will be ready for your transplant. Choose a sunny day, preferably at noon and that it is neither too hot nor too cold.
If you have a garden, make sure that each plant is approximately 30cm apart. In a pot, one seed per unit is planted. Dig the holes one centimeter deep and do not crush the soil from the surface as they prefer it loose.
Water your seedlings but don't soak them! Remember, they are small and need care. Nutrients have to be added and weeds removed during the month or more that it may take for them to flourish.
The time of its harvest depends on the variety of chile planted. If you know the color they must have to harvest them, perfect! But if not, do not pay much attention to the color since its indication of maturity depends on what chili it is. If you plan to dry the chili, it is best to let them shrink on the plant.
Below you will find a little more detail about the most common varieties of chili peppers. And an important tip: DO NOT TOUCH YOUR LEAVES AFTER HANDLING CHILLIES!
Characteristics of the cultivation of the various types of chili
The one to two meter tall plant bears its fleshy and elongated fruit of 7 to 10 cm., Once a year. Its pungency has a lot to do with the variety of the seed and the land where it was planted. It prefers warm temperatures and is planted before the rainy season. The harvest takes place around 70 days later and each plant can bear 25 to 35 fruits.
Another annual plant that reaches a height of 60 to 90cm. It matures in about 78 days and its cylinder-shaped fruit measures 3 to 5cm and is very spicy. It is grown more or less like the tomato but it is more resistant to rain and needs even more heat than it.
Large plant of 60 to 80cm with a good yield of fruits that are similar in size to paprika. Also, it matures in about 70 days and grows best in a temperature of 14º to 25ºC.
Chile de Arbol
Shrub-shaped plant that is best grown in warm areas and bears fruits of around 7cm. It is taller than other varieties and this is where it gets its name. It is customary to consume it dry although it is also eaten fresh.
It has a height of 40 to 50cm and a width of 30cm and its fruit is long and reaches about 20cm. It grows best in a temperature between 14º and 25ºC and matures in about 80 days. It is used fresh and also dry, when it is known as chile pasilla.
This plant grows to 40 and up to 50cm in height and the chili peppers it produces are 7 to 12cm long and 3 to 5cm wide. It is harvested after 75 days and grows best at the usual temperature of 14-25ºC. Its name is probably due to the fact that the fruit points upwards. It is used fresh and also as Guajillo, which is its name in its dry state.
It is sown in the hot months and needs a good amount of water. It reaches a height of about 50cm and bears fruit for 70 to 120 days. It is consumed fresh or dry, when it is known as Rattlesnake.
Depending on the variety, the fruit ripens in 2 to 3 months. It is planted in highly drained and fertile soil and grows to a meter in height and width. Its harvest takes about 70-80 days.
Chile del Monte
Chile of patience that requires about 100 days to harvest and even so, the first time gives less chili peppers than the second year. It is important that you spend the winter indoors or in a place protected from the elements. Its fruit stings a lot and the plant can measure 1.20m with a width of 30cm.
Chile Manzano or Perón
Although its official name is Rocoto, is known as Manzano also, in its country of origin, Peru. It has its name because of its similarity to the apple, but bite it bravo! It bears fruit after a minimum of 80 days and measures 5cm long by 5cm wide. The plant measures about 80 to 100cm and is very resistant to low temperatures.
The hottest chili in Mexico is 2cm long by 1.2cm wide and I need a minimum of 90 days before I can harvest it. It is 60 to 70cm tall and has a high fruit yield. Its origin is from Mexico although there is the idea that it could have been brought to the Aztec country from Cuba.
Although everyone has their whims to grow healthy, in general and regardless of the various types of mexican chili that can be grown, you need a sunny place, moist, potassium-enriched soil with good drainage, protection from extreme heat and cold, and lots of love. Oh, and of course, patience! It will take time but the result will be to have your own chilies to use in the recipes of your favorite Mexican dishes.
If you have any details that you would like to add, something to suggest or any questions to clarify your doubts, please be so kind and write your comment in the space provided below. I will be happy to answer you shortly!