The Ecology of Humans (57-3) Chili Pepper

Chili Pepper

Columbus’ confusion about chili peppers was of a spice that had been part of native Central American diets since at least 7500 bce. Chili peppers were introduced to Asia by Portuguese traders. They became integral to Indian cuisine. Paprika, chili powder, and cayenne pepper are chili pepper products.

Capsaicin gives chili peppers their kick. Chili pepper plants designed capsaicin as a defense against mammalian herbivores and pesky fungi. Avian friends were off the hook. Birds are unaffected by capsaicin, and so happily eat chili fruit. Chili pepper plants count on birds to disperse their seeds, which pass through avian digestive tracts unharmed. In contrast, mammal molars mangle chili seeds.