The History Of Chillies in Brazil
The fact that Brazil contains 65 % of the Amazon basin is a clue to how close this country is to the Chilli. It is widely accepted that Chillies, while now found around the world, are native to the Amazon basin. While neighbouring Bolivia is thought to be the country where chillies originally started, Brazil would not have been far behind in being a place where they could first be found
Before the Portuguese colonisation of Brazil, the country was inhabited by as many as 2000 nations and tribes. These were semi-nomadic people who relied on hunting and gathering for their subsistence. It is believed that these people began spicing their food thousands of years ago, using chillies found in the wild. They had started a tradition in Brazilian food that is still being followed today
After 1500, Portugal began shipping slaves from West Africa to Brazil. These slaves, who were accustomed to eating spicy food in their motherland, immediately took to the Chillies they found in their new surroundings. While there were many varieties, they liked one so much that they even named it after a spice that they had used back home.
The name that they gave it “ Malagueta ” is from the Portuguese spelling of a spice called Malegueta spice that they had used in Africa. Also known as Grains of Paradise, Malegueta spice is native only to West and Northern Africa. It is unrelated to the Chilli and has a flavour resembling that of black pepper
After the Portuguese arrival in Brazil, people from many other European, Middle Eastern and Asian countries settled in the country. Immigrants from amongst others from Germany, Italy, Lebanon and later, Japan, all added their influence to the fusion of Amerindian / West African/ Portuguese cuisine that had developed in the country. Many of the dishes found in this fusion food contained- you guessed it – Chillies
How Chillies are used in Brazilian cooking
Today, except for a few northern states, chillies are widely used in Brazilian cuisine. Brazil, however, is a big country. There is not what can be recognized as a national cuisine but rather an assortment of regional cuisines and specialities that can be directly connected to the original ethnicity of the people living in these areas.
In the Bahia region, for example, the spicy character of the food has been shaped by the influences of Portuguese, West African and indigenous peoples cuisine. Dishes like Efó ( spinach soup with dried shrimp, garlic, onion and chillies), Vatapá ( an Afro /Brazilian dish made with dried shrimp, bread, nuts, coconut milk and chillies), Moqueca de Peixa ( Brazilan seafood stew with chillies), and spicy Bobó de camarão ( shrimp stew ) are all examples of local cuisine where the chilli is used as an ingredient.
In many other recipes in Bahia, chilli sauces are also widely used as a condiment as opposed to adding Chillies as an ingredient. While there are many different variants of these sauces, a typical recipe for making a Mohlo de Pimenta Baiaino (Bahian Chilli sauce ) could run along the same lines as Piri Piri Sauce, which is popular in Portugal and Mozambique.
Other examples of states in Brazil where chillies are extensively used include Goiás and the State of Pará, where significant quantities of Malagueta, Goat peppers and Tabasco chillies are consumed.
Does Brazil have a national dish with Chillies?
Feijoada ( A flavourful, slow-simmered bean and meat stew) is probably the closest that Brazil has to a national dish. It is very much loved in most regions in the country.
Many regional differences are, however, found in its preparation. In some states ( notably Bahia), Feijoada may be prepared with chillies or served with Chilli sauce. In other states, Chillies may not be used in the preparation of this dish at all.
With this in mind, it is difficult to make a general rule about the use of Chillies at a national level in Brazil because of the pure diversity of the cuisine.
One thing we do know, however, is that Brazil loves its chillies. Probably the best way of understanding, just how much this is true, is to look at how Brazil uses them:
Ways in which Chillies are used
Fresh chillies are used to make dishes like Salada com pimenta Biquinho ( Green salad with chillies), Salada de manga com pimenta (Mango salad with chillies) and Guacamole ( Avocado mash with chillies ). The Biquinho and Cumari Pepper are particularly prized in the area of salad and fresh salsa type dishes because of their sweetness.
Pates: Biquinho, Calabresa, Dedo de moça,Cambuci and Pimenta de cheiro are used to make pates and dips like Patê de pimenta calabresa com requeijão e uva-passa (Pepperoni pâté with curd and raisin) Patê de pimenta dedo-de-moça ( Dedo-de-moça Patê) and Patê de pimenta Biquinho ( Birds beak chilli pâté)
Jams and jellies : Great tasting jams and jellies are made using chillies like Pimenta Biquinho,(Geleia de pimenta biquinho) , Dedo de Moca ( Geleia de pimenta dedo-de-moça com maçã) and Cumari ( Geleia de pimenta cumari com pimentão) . Pepperoni flakes are used in Geléia de tomate com pimenta ( Tomato jam with chillies)
Stews and Soups. Brazil, as a country, loves this type of food. The national dish, Feijoada, would just not be the same without chillies. It is typically served with a Feijoada hot sauce ( Molho-de-pimenta-para-feijoada) or with pickled Chillies.
Likewise, other iconical Brazilain plates like Vatapá and Moqueca Capixaba would definitely be lacking if they did not contain chillies, Sopa de feijoa preto ( black bean soup) and Sopa de galinha com pimenta (chicken soup with chilli ) are great examples where Brazil uses chillies in soups.
Stuffed: Pimenta Crocante Recheada ( Stuffed crispy chillies made with Dedo de moça) , Pimenta Recheada com Carne Seca e creme de queijo ( Chillies with dried meat and cream cheese); Pimenta cambuci recheada (Stuffed Cambuci Chillies) and pimenta recheada com queijo coalho ( Chillies stuffed with cheese)
Desserts: Chillies are used to flavour ice cream and mousse ( particularly chocolate ). A typical recipe for a dessert made in Brazil using Chillies is Mousse de chocolate com pimenta ( Chocolate mousse with Chillies)
Hot sauces and Chilli oils. It is the norm that most households in Brazil make their own hot sauces and Chilli oils. The recipes for the hot sauces are traditionally well-kept secrets that are passed from generation to generation. The chillies that are used to make these sauces can include Dedo de Moca, Malagueta and Pimenta Murupi (and many others).
Similarly, Chillies also are preserved in oil to make Chilli oils. Recipes like Molho-de-pimenta-caseira (homemade Chilli sauce) and Oleo-de-pimenta-malagueta ( Malagueta chilli oil) are typical recipes for these uses.
Pickled: Pimenta Murupi, Dedo de moça, Malaguetas, Biquinho and many others are made into great pickled chillies like conserva de pimenta e Biquinho no Vinagre (pickled Biquinho chillies in vinegar) and conserva de pimenta Dedo de moça (pickled little ladies finger chillies. In some instances, Chillies are preserved in vinegar, not so much for the preserved chillies themselves, but for the flavour that is imparted to the vinegar. This is then added to food when preparing recipes.
Preserved: Chillies are preserved in oil or a combination of oil and vinegar in recipes like Conserva de Pimenta em Azeita (canned chillies in olive oil)and Conserva de Pimenta em Azeita e Vinagre ( canned chillies in olive oil and vinegar)
Varieties of Chillies in Brazil
With the Amazon basin being the birth -place of Chillies, it is not surprising that Brazil has such a wide variety of across a wide spectrum of different families and classes. These chillies come in a variety of shapes, sizes, flavours and heat levels
With this in mind, it would be impossible within the scope of this article to name them all. The following are some of the Chillies more closely associated with the countries cuisine
Pimenta Pitanga. Has a Scoville rating of between 30000 and 50000 SHU Also known as the Brazilian Starfish Chilli, it gets its name from its shape resembling that of a Pitanga ( starfish from Brazil). The fruit has a squat appearance, with a diameter of one to two centimetres in diameter and two centimetres in height. It has ridged sides a
The fruit ripens from green to yellow and will finally turn red if allowed to ripen fully. It has a sweet, fruity flavour said to slightly resemble that of an apple The Pitanga is used in salads and salsas but also goes well with seafood dishes like Brazilian Ceviche and Peixe ao Molho de Pitanga (Fish with Pitanga sauce and Lagosta ao Molho de pitanga (Lobster with Pitanga)It is also good to use to make pickled peppers and chilli chutney (Chutney de Pimenta-Pitang)
Dedo de moça (Young ladies finger pepper). This Chilli and the Malagueta are the most popular hot peppers in Brazil. It is an indispensable ingredient for many of the countries fantastic dishes The Dedo de moça can reach a height of 1 meter in height and 60cm in width Its pods begin green and then cycle through being yellow and orange and will finally turn a deep red. The chillies are 6-8 cm in length
It has a Scoville rating of 10000 to 15000 SHU. Its mild and complex smoky flavour imparts a great taste to Brazilian dishes like Moqueca Capixaba (Brazilian fish stew), Feijoada (Pork, bean and sausage stew) and Camarões e pimenta (prawns with chillies).
Besides being used in restaurant style recipes the Dedo de Moça is an everyday chilli in Brazil.It is used in households to add flavour to sauces like tomato, mushroom or even bechamel . They are often pickled (Pimenta Dedo de Moça em Conserva) ,made into hot sauces (Molho de Pimenta), preserved in oil and are also dried. In its dried format it is known as Calabresa pepper
Malagueta Chilli. Has a Scoville rating of 60000 to 100000 SHU, It grows to between 30 and 35 inches in a densely leafed bush with pods that point upwards. The pods typically go through various stages of maturation changing from green through yellow and orange and finally turning red. The chillies are between 1 inch and two inches long . Malagueta Chillies from the wild are particularly prized because of their increased heat and flavour
It is used to make favourites like Moqueca de peixe ( Brazilian fish stew), Caruru (Traditional stew made with dried shrimps, okra, nuts and Chillies, Frango churrasco (Spicy grilled chicken) and Vatapá ( stew-like mash made with breadcrumbs, shrimp, coconut milk and Chillies and spices)Many of these dishes are a fusion of West African and Portuguese cuisine
In Brazil, the larger chillies (approximately 2 inches) are called Malaguetão with, the smaller ( up to 1 inch) by the name of Malaquetinha. Apparently, they are not different but merely the same chilli at a different stage in its growth
Pimenta-de-bode. (Goats pepper ) is a chilli most popular in the Goiás state. It has a Scoville rating of between 15000 and 30000 SHU. Its pods are round and flattened and about 2cm in size. The fruit ripens from green to an orange colour and matures to redder colour. It has a fruity flavour.
Pimenta-de-bode gets its name from the fact that it has a very distinctive sharp smell similar to a goat. This smell is offensive, but just that it describes a distinct odour in the same way as you might associate a particular characteristic when describing a goat. The taste is sharp and fruity. It is widely canned because of its uniform shape but is also gaining rapid popularity amongst chefs in fine dining and in the making of speciality jams and relishes. Typical dishes where the Pimenta-de-bode gets used include baião-de-dois (Bean, cheese and chilli stew), Tutu de Feijão ( Brazilian refried beans) and to flavour rice. It is an everyday spice in many households
As previously mentioned, this list is not extensive. Chillies like Pimenta Biquino, Fidalgo. Pimenta-de-cheiro, Pimenta Coração de Galinha, Pimenta Cumar and Pimenta Cambuci and many others are also used in Brazil