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Chillis are the extremely pungent red fruits of a plant of the capsicum family. They are used for spicing up fiery dishes from their native Central and South America, and have also become incorporated into the cuisines of other parts of the world to which the plant has been exported—India, for instance. Spanish explorers had brought it back to Europe in the seventeenth century, but in Britain it remained something of an exotic rarity (‘“Try a chili with it, Miss Sharp,” said Joseph, really interested. “A chili,” said Rebecca, gasping; “oh yes!” She thought a chili was something cool, as its name imported,’ William Thackeray, Vanity Fair, 1848), its only common role being as a pickling spice. Its name comes via Spanish from Nahuatl chilli, and has no connection with the name of the country Chile.

Dried ground chillis are cayenne pepper; but confusingly chilli powder, or chili powder as it is also spelled, is a mixture of cayenne with other spices, particularly cumin.

Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.

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