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Spicy Foods Came Before Christ

Update Date: Nov 14, 2013 11:57 AM EST

Using chili peppers to cook is an ancient tradition. New research reveals that these spicy treats may have had multiple culinary uses thousands of years ago.

Researchers believe that the Mixe-Zoquean people of Mexico used the peppers to make spicy beverages centuries ago.

Culinary use of the Capsicum species, also referred to as chili peppers, has been well documented in Spanish and Portuguese history. However, researchers know very little about how it was used by ancient American cultures. This is because there are relatively few sites in Mesoamerica, Central America, and South America that contain remains of Capsicum.

Using chemical extractions, researchers found traces of Capsicum residues in pottery samples from a site in southern Mexico. Researchers noted that some of these pottery vessels were over 2000 years old, dating from 400 BC to 300 AD.

Researchers explained that chili peppers could have been used for very culinary purposes after they found Capsicum residue in multiple types of jars and vessels.

Capsicum residue was found in a vessel called a sprouted jar, which is used for pouring a liquid into another container. Researchers said the latest findings suggest that chili peppers may have been used to prepare spicy beverages or dining condiments.

"The significance of our study is that it is the first of its kind to detect ancient chili pepper residues from early Mixe-Zoquean pottery in Mexico. While our findings of Capsicum species in these Preclassic pots provides the earliest evidence of chili consumption in well-dated Mesoamerican archaeological contexts, we believe our scientific study opens the door for further collaborative research into how the pepper may have been used either from a culinary, pharmaceutical, or ritual perspective during the last few centuries before the time of Christ," Terry Powis of Kennesaw State University said in a news release.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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