A Big Chile Shoutout to Bird Poop

If you like smothering the top of a burger with New Mexico green chile or maybe jalapenos you have a very odd thing to thank for your pleasure: bird poop.

Botanists have determined that all chile varieties originated in South America and more specifically, the lowlands of Brazil. That region is home to the most varieties of wild chile, a small fruit about the size of a large berry. Here is where the birds come in.
Birds don’t feel the heat of the chile and the seeds pass through their digestive tracts unharmed. Birds would feed on ripe chile and then fly off, say to the edge of their range, poop and thus give birth to a new chile plant.

Repeat that process over centuries and before you know it you’ve got chile plants inCentral America and Southern Mexico. The Mayans and Aztecs are using chile in their diet and for medicinal purposes. The Carib’s take it with them as they spread out to the, um, Caribbean Islands and the West Indies.

Then along comes Christopher Columbus who takes chile back to Spain. From there it quickly spread along the Mediterranean region into the Far East.

Columbus is also responsible for tagging the word “pepper” onto chile as he mistakenly thought it was from the same family as black pepper or “pimiento.”

How chile got to New Mexico is a matter of debate. Some scientists think it was trade between the native Pueblos and the Toltec Indians of Mexico and others think Spanish explorers brought chile with them out of Mexico.

I’m just glad it did. Join me as I hoist an adult beverage skyward and shout “Here’s to bird poop!”

(Sources include the Chile Pepper Institute, Cambridge History of World Food, and Wikipedia.org)

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