[Source: David Brown, Washington Post] -- Inhabitants of the New World had chili peppers and the makings of taco chips 6,100 years ago, according to new research that examined the bowl-scrapings of people sprinkled throughout Central America and the Amazon basin. Upcoming questions on the research agenda -- and this is not a joke -- include: Did they have salsa? When did they get beer? The discovery makes the chili pepper the oldest spice in the Americas -- and one of the oldest in the world. The findings described today in a 15-author report in the journal Science make the chili pepper the oldest spice in use in the Americas, and one of the oldest in the world.
The researchers believe further study may show that the fiery pod was used 1,000 years earlier than their current oldest specimen, as it shows evidence of having been domesticated, a process that would have taken time. If so, that would put chili peppers in the same league (although probably not the same millennium) as hoarier spices such as coriander, capers and fenugreek. The chili pepper, however, makes up for its junior status with rapid spread and wild popularity. Within decades of European contact, the New World plant was carried across Europe and into Africa and Asia, adopted widely, and further altered through selective breeding. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]