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Pepper is an ancient ingredient widely used in African and Indigenous cuisines. Both the country’s native Indians and the black Africans who came as slaves consumed peppers in abundance. The former ate them dry or crushed with manioc flour (quya). With the arrival of the African slaves to Northeast Brazil – the first region to be occupied by the colonisers – the consumption of peppers was increased. The nobility and the clergy greatly appreciated the Brazilian pepper – Capsicum – which by being softer became preferred and exported to Portugal.
The kitchens of the sugar mills, run by European and conducted by African slaves, inherited various aspects from the indigenous. To accentuate the taste of food, and also because salt and sugar were very valuable products, women used local seasonings such as coriander, parsley and Indian pepper (capsicum). As strange as they might have been to the Portuguese palate, they had to adapt to the new tastes of Brazilian spices.
The great disseminator (or planter) of the pepper plants is the thrush, a bird that eats the fruits and spreads the seeds through its excrement. In this way, it sows capsicum wherever it goes.
The chemical substance that provides the hot nature and spicy taste of peppers – capsaicin – causes the release of endorphins, and consequently a very pleasant feeling of well-being.
According to Pereira da Costa apud Cascudo (1954)
The common name is pipera, used in these respects, comes from its fiery and abrasive taste, especially the pepper commonly called ‘cheiro’ (Capsicum adoriferum, Vell.); [there is also] cumary, quiya comari, tupinico, according to Marcgrave; and the malagueta (Capsicum baccatum, Linn.) which, according to Almeida Pinto, is the querija-apuá of the Indians. In addition to these species of pepper, there are others also cultivated, namely those that are called: ‘Fish eye, monkey gut and mullet’. To the solonacea, with the common name of pimentão [bell pepper], by the great development that reaches, the Indians gave it the name of quiyá açu, large pepper. Black pepper (Piper nigrusu, Linn.), originally from India, but so called to distinguish it from indigenous species, and even because it came via the metropolis, the kingdom of Portugal. Cultivated in the now closed Olinda Botanical Garden, it was propagated, but its culture did not withstand. The general use of the pepper in the meals of meat and fish, specially the cheiro pepper, in a strong, spicy sauce called mulata, or a weak, slightly ardent one called viúva [widow], coming from the Indians, their ychiataia, sundried pepper, reduced to powder, and mixed with salt, as it is still used, but crushed, mixed with manioc flour, and thus sprinkled in the anguzô and bobó.
The folklorist (CASCUDO, 1954) states that in
Eastern, Central, Southern and Western Africa, pepper coincides with all black palates in time and space. Almost everything that is eaten in Africa requires the burning presence of pepper, in the sweets themselves. In the public market of Cabinda, I tasted a drink made with peppers, possible a sister of the caiapó drink in Goiás. In the totality of black diets, one feels the unmistakable ardour.
Several species of peppers are grown in Brazil. The fruits of the popular malagueta are red, highly spicy, elongated, measuring between 1.5 and 3.5cm in length. The cumari is spicy and slightly bitter, oval, dark red, and is less than 1cm in diameter. The biquinho pepper is rounded, red, has a tip shaped like a beak and a soft taste. The fruits of the dedo-de-moça pepper are elongated, reddish, and taste softer than the chilli. The cayenne pepper can be green or reddish, is elongated and has a strong ardency, being much used in Mexican cuisine. The cambuci pepper is light green, flat, sweet and smooth, and has a diameter of 5 to 7cm. Also produced in the country, among others, the American sweet peppers, chapeu de bispo, bode, and cheiro.
The favourite dish for Brazilians – feijoada mixed with manioc flour – is always served with pepper sauce: it goes well with it and increases its flavour. Pepper sauces season buchada, mocotó, oxtail, caruru of okra, moqueca, dobradinha, cabidela chicken and sarapatel, traditional dishes of Bahia and Pernambuco cuisine.
In relation to cheiro pepper, Embrapa Amazônia Oriental has been developing research to recover the original characteristics of this plant, because it has gradually lost its smell, colour and size as a result of cross-breeding with other species of pepper.
Many people believe that capsaicin has medicinal properties. In this sense, they eat peppers and/or drink their teas in order to heal wounds, dissolve blood clots, prevent bleeding and atherosclerosis, control cholesterol and increase endurance.
Peppers are indicated by the Popular Medicine to heal:
● fainting or vertigo;
● venereal and urinary tract diseases;
● painful menstrual cramps;
● loss of appetite, hoarseness and cough (SOUTO MAIOR, 2004).
"A smart, lively, busy person, as well as a fiery and libidinous woman are popularly called ‘peppers’ "(PEREIRA DA COSTA apud CASCUDO, 2004).
Black pepper (Piper nigrum L.) is a climbing plant native to India, introduced to Brazil in the 18th century during the reign of King João VI and popularised with Japanese immigration to the State of Pará, in the first half of the 20th century. The humid and hot climate of the region was favourable to the cultivation of this pepper, which centuries ago was called black gold. It belongs to a different genus of pepper and the causative substance of its ardency is called piperine. Black pepper is widely used in Brazilian cuisine, serving to season roasted meats and stews, vegetables, pâtés, preserves and marinades. Brazil is one of the world’s largest producers of black pepper, exporting an average of 45,000 tons per year to Europe and the United States.
Recife, 24 October 2008.
Translated by Peter Leamy, December 2016.
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