The use of Chillies in Brazilian cooking

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.

Brazilian Indian

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.

Link to recipe page for chilli rubs

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.

Image: Variety of chilliesPates:  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)

Acarajé with Vatapá

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)

Link to recipe for chocolate and chilli mousse
Fantastic dessert. Mousse made with chillies and chocolate.

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 Malagueta

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

Image : Love ChilliesThe 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





Image credits

Map of Brazil. Golbez assumed (based on copyright claims). / CC BY-SA3.0
Varieties heading. agriculturasp /via Flikr/ CC BY-2.0
Dedo de Moca. Marco Verch /via Flikr/ CC BY-2.0 
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