The history of Chillies in Turkey

Meze with Chillies. Turkish cooking

Part Asia, part Europe

Being where it is, with one part in Asia and the other in Europe, the history of the Chilli in Turkey is quite complex. It is possible that it arrived there in a variety of different ways. Along with other countries like India and China. The Chilli is not indigenous to Turkey. It had to be introduced there.  In this post, we will consider various possibilities as to how this happened.

In her fantastic book “The Pepper Trail”, Jean Andrews, a distinguished alumna from the University of North Texas, mentions various ways that the Chilli could have found its way to Turkey.  While concluding that the final answer could lie in a combination of possibilities, she provided the following scenarios.

Flag of TurkeyHer favoured route was through established trade routes from Portuguese East Africa and India to Istanbul. Chillies arrived in Turkey from India or Egypt via Ottoman traders. In travelling well-established trade routes to these regions, they would have encountered the spice and brought it back to Turkey. Alternatively, and improbably, they came to Turkey from Spain via Turkish contacts with exiled Spanish Moors or expelled Spanish Jews (from the Spanish Inquisition days) who distributed Chillies throughout North Africa all the way to Egypt. She states that a majority of these Jews settled in Turkey, possibly bringing Chillies with them.  Cultivation and distribution of their crops could have resulted in the widespread popularization of the spice.  A further alternative was as a  consequence of clandestine firearms trading between the Spanish and Turks, which saw Chillies exchanging hands between the countries as part of trade.

Bearing in mind the massive influence that the Portuguese had on the distribution and commercialization of Chillies throughout the world, the possibility is raised that the Portuguese colony of Hormuz may have been responsible for introducing capsicum to the Turks. At the strategic entrance to the Persian Gulf, this colony was a centre for the trade in Arabian horses, cotton and spices between 1515 and 1662. Turkish traders visited it, and it is quite possible that as part of their trading activities, the Turks became interested in Chillies as a spice for trade, and, in turn, brought seed back to Turkey to be grown.

Reference: Jean Andrews, The Pepper Trail, 1999, ISBN I-57441-070-9

The use of Chillies in Turkish cuisine